Last week, the board voted 9 to 5 to ban the spraying and sale of dicamba in Arkansas for 120 days and increase fines up to $25,000 per violation.
Governor Asa Hutchinson has not yet approved the emergency rule, but said he supports the Plant Board and expects it will ultimately go to the legislature for review.
Dicamba has been around for decades, but there were big changes last year. Monsanto released a new genetically-modified (GMO) soybean — Roundup Ready 2 Xtend — that is engineered to survive spraying by dicamba and Roundup (glyphosate).
Monsanto sold the GMO soybeans to farmers in 2016, but warned that actually using dicamba would be illegal due to “dicamba drift” — a major problem in which dicamba evaporates and hits a nearby field, stunting the growth of the crop by 10-30%.
Monsanto told farmers to wait until the EPA approved its new drift-resistant formulation of dicamba, but despite up to a $1,000 fine per violation, the temptation to boost crop yields proved irresistible — especially in East Arkansas, where most of the state’s violations occurred.
In 2016, dicamba drift destroyed over 200,000 acres of crops in Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.
No farmers or pesticide-applicators have been prosecuted for illegal spraying of dicamba in 2016, but investigations are ongoing. In the meantime, farmers who lost their crops are grappling with the crisis — and who to blame.
News station KARK talked to Reed Storey, an Arkansas farmer who lost at least 400 acres of soybeans as a result of dicamba drift:
It’s like putting ice cream in front of a kid and telling them they can’t eat it. All these farmers heard when it came to this system appears to be ‘higher yields’ and ‘dicamba-resistant’. The temptation has outweighed the consequences in this case.”
People who breathe dicamba drifting off fields into their home, school, or workplace may suffer dizziness, nose irritation, cough, and other side effects. Some studies of pesticide-workers also suggest an increased risk of cancer and lymphoma.
About 98% of soybeans in the U.S. are grown to make high-protein food for cows, pigs, and chickens. Nearly all are Monsanto’s Roundup Ready® GMO soybeans that are sprayed with glyphosate to kill weeds — but as weeds rapidly evolve to survive glyphosate, Monsanto has turned to dicamba and other controversial herbicides.