WASHINGTON, Sept. 13, 2017 - The Arkansas State Plant Board will consider an April 15 cutoff date for dicamba use in the state next year, as recommended in a task force report submitted Monday.

The plant board meets Sept. 21 to take up that recommendation and consider how to proceed on two other recommendations that would require legislative action – amending state law to allow for “egregious violations” that would be subject to enhanced penalties without the need to prove “significant off-target crop damage,” and a requirement for “increased independent and university testing of new products before they come to market, with an additional stipulation that the entire technology package (seeds and herbicide) be ready for market at the same time.”

The dicamba task force was convened at the request of Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

The plant board also will consider a petition submitted last week by Monsanto that urges rejection of the cutoff date. In a letter to Hutchinson, the company’s chief technology officer, Robb Fraley, contended that “the available evidence establishes that Arkansas farmers can use new, low-volatility dicamba formulations safely and effectively to control resistant weeds.”

Fraley said that more than 90 percent of the nearly 1,000 complaints of off-target dicamba damage received by the state this growing season “were from a confined area of the state covering eight contiguous counties, and most were made during a two-week period in June.” In the rest of the state, which includes “80 percent of all soybean-growing counties and nearly two-thirds of the highest-soybean-producing counties in Arkansas,” growers were able to use new, low-volatile dicamba technology successfully.

Only BASF’s new, low-volatility dicamba product, Engenia, was allowed for use in Arkansas this growing season. The state did not approve Monsanto’s Xtendimax formulation with VaporGrip technology or DuPont’s FeXapan because researchers were not able to conduct independent testing, according to the state.

Monsanto, however, contends that no requirement for independent testing exists. “After registering XtendiMax in 2016, the Plant Board subsequently adopted a rule preventing its in-crop use within the State based on the absence of ‘required’ University of Arkansas research data,” Fraley said in his letter. “The Plant Board’s decision was (and is) arbitrary and capricious because the administrative record shows that no such requirement ever existed – and still does not exist.”

The petition takes aim at research by university weed scientists linking off-target damage to the volatility of the new dicamba formulations. Fraley called the research “unsubstantiated product volatility theories that are not supported by empirical or modeled data, but are contradicted by actual scientific data the task force failed to consider.”

In a brief statement, the plant board said it had received the petition “and will include it for consideration” at the Sept 21 meeting. “Board members are working diligently to review all dicamba-related recommendations and research to make the best decision on possible rules and regulations for dicamba use in the 2018 growing season.”

In a statement, Mark Cochran, Vice President-Agriculture for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said, “We stand by the integrity of our scientists and their science, including Dr. Jason Norsworthy, our internationally recognized researcher and his work, and all our weed scientists, as well as other public weed scientists on record in other states.”

“This petition isn’t just about a single herbicide, but it’s an attack on a whole profession – scientists whose careful work is meant to be of benefit to all,” Cochran said.

Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., also weighed in, saying, “I would like to applaud the University of Arkansas research team as a nationally renowned and universally respected team of professionals, and I fully support their efforts as they work to provide the very best information and recommendations to Arkansas farmers day in and day out.”

Crawford added, "At the federal level, I will work with my colleagues to minimize the potential for federal agencies to negatively impact farmers and ranchers with unnecessary and costly regulatory burdens. As demonstrated by the strong work of the University of Arkansas research team, the Arkansas Plant Board, and the Dicamba Task Force, solutions to these issues are best left to the states whenever possible.”

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