Joint Arkansas Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development Committee meeting July 7, 2017 Mary Hightower/U of A System Division of Agriculture
Scene just before the start of the Joint Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development Committee meeting July 7, 2017, in Little Rock. The committee was tasked with making a recommendation to the executive subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislative Council on a proposed ban on the use and sale of dicamba.

Baldwin: Herbicides should work as intended while doing no harm

Weed scientist Ford Baldwin testified before the Arkansas committee making a recommendation on a proposed ban on the use and sale of dicamba.

The Arkansas Joint Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development Committee has finished the process of implementing the emergency stop sale and use of dicamba in Arkansas. The ruling goes into effect at 12:01 a.m., July 11, and lasts 120 days. The same day, the Missouri department of ag issued a similar order that took effect immediately.

I was asked by two state representatives to present testimony at the Arkansas hearing. There were many places I would rather have been and initially said no. Nobody relishes being involved in issues where there is roughly a 50-50 split and feelings as well as tempers are high on both sides.

However, I feel as if I am watching agriculture being destroyed before my very eyes, and anyone who knew much about dicamba could see this coming for several years. Therefore, I agreed to testify. In a series of commentaries, I will give a capsule summary of my testimony broken down by the way I presented it.

I began the testimony by stating the need for new technology. Our last new herbicide mode of action is over 30 years old and the short-term survival of chemical weed control as we have known it now depends upon four older postemergence herbicides all tied up in competing seed technologies.

Glyphosate has failed on driver weeds like Palmer amaranth and the PPO inhibiting herbicides we have propped glyphosate up with are failing. LibertyLink is an excellent technology but has been overused in certain areas and if this continues it will fail. Therefore, I fully understand the need for new technologies and have worked very hard with our Plant Board to find a path forward for Xtend crops.

Those saying I am against the technology simply do not know me. I actually recommended planting Xtend soybeans to a several growers this spring, but in most cases recommended against using dicamba this first year if possible.

I fully understand that growers planting the Xtend crops are happy with their weed control and feel the varieties will perform well. Weed scientists love making weed control recommendations that kill weeds. University of Arkansas research shows when dicamba is used in program approaches the results are excellent, just as they are with several competing technologies.

Cause no harm

I believe herbicides are a wonderful thing if they do their intended job and they can be used without causing harm to others. In the case of the Xtend technology, the second part is not happening and that is why the stop use was ultimately issued.

Just considering soybeans, a large segment of growers are happy with their Roundup Ready soybeans and do not wish to pay the additional premium. There are those happy with their LibertyLink system and wish to continue to use it as a diversity tool. There are those who want to grow conventional soybeans for non-GMO markets that pay a premium. There are those who have a nice market for food beans and wish to continue that.

A wedge has been driven between those wish to grow the Xtend crops and those who do not — just as I predicted five years ago — tensions are running extremely high in the field.

I have been back through some of the worst affected areas and the rains have been a blessing. Rainfall can enhance symptoms in the short run, but it degrades the dicamba more quickly and helps get plants growing again. A week has made a lot of difference in the way the injured soybeans are looking. I see this as a positive if they stop getting hit.

Ford Baldwin served as a weed scientist with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service from 1974 to 2001. Since 2002, he has been a partner in Practical Weed Consultants with his wife, Tomilea. Contact him at ford@weedconsultants.com.

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