LITTLE ROCK — The fight over Arkansas’ effort to ban an herbicide that farmers say has drifted onto crops where it wasn’t applied, causing widespread damage, is far from over, with attention now shifting to a manufacturer’s lawsuit.
The dicamba debate could also linger among lawmakers.
The Arkansas Legislative Council last week approved the state Plant Board’s proposal to ban applications of dicamba from April 16 through Oct. 31, a prohibition that has sharply divided farmers and has prompted a lawsuit from a maker of the weed killer. The board approved the ban after receiving nearly 1,000 complaints last year about the weed killer drifting and causing damage.
Lawmakers last month had delayed taking up the proposal and instead asked the Plant Board to consider revising the prohibition. The board this month stood by its plan and sent the measure back to the Legislative Council, which is the Legislature’s main governing body when lawmakers aren’t in session.
“The Plant Board give us some very good scientific information that they had studied and worked on for a long period of time, and I think the members realized that,” said Republican Sen. Bill Sample, the co-chairman of the council who had initially asked the board to revisit its proposed ban.
The ban advanced after lawmakers heard from sharply divided farmers. Those supporting the ban said the restriction was needed to avoid a repeat of last year’s problems and to give state officials more time to study the issue. Farmers opposed to it say the restriction will put them at a disadvantage against growers from other states where the weed killer can be used.
It also came after some lawmakers complained the Plant Board didn’t make a serious effort at revising the ban to address some of the concerns raised.
“We’ve got good people in each of our districts who are on either side of this issue, and it’s the Plant Board’s job to take the politics out of this. … I’m extremely frustrated at the process by which the Plant Board went about this,” Democratic state Rep. Michael John Gray said last week.
The debate may prompt a wider debate on the rulemaking process. Arkansas lawmakers must either approve or disapprove agency rules like the dicamba ban. They can’t change them, but they can send the rules back to the agency.
“I think it’s a symptom that we’re seeing with lots of agencies where they’re ignoring us more and more, and I think at some point we’re going to take a stand on some of that,” Democratic state Sen. Larry Teague said at the subcommittee’s hearing last week.
For now, it’ll be up to the courts on whether Arkansas’ ban stays in effect. A Pulaski County judge is holding a hearing next month in the lawsuit brought by Monsanto, a maker of dicamba that is trying prevent the herbicide ban from taking effect. The Missouri-based company has argued the state’s ban is arbitrary and is depriving farmers of a key tool for fighting invasive weeds.
Aside from whether the state’s ban moves forward, the biggest question in the coming months is how soon the issue returns to the Legislature.
“The old saying is, there’s nothing that’s dead around here,” Sample said.