The young, east Arkansas cotton farmer turns in a slow circle trying to find a plant within his line of sight that isn’t “smoked” by herbicide drift. There isn’t one — leaves in the top third of every plant are off-color, curling and blistered.

He says excuses won’t cut it. He wants those responsible for the 2,4-D drift that’s harmed more than half his crop held liable. After that, he suggests banning or restricting 2,4-D might be a good idea.

“This is beyond ugly and has got to stop,” he says throwing up his hands in frustration. “We’re trying to make a living and this bush-league (stuff) starts happening. It’s the same story up and down the road here. It’s on everyone’s cotton.

“Considering how bad farmers’ money situations are, there’s no room in the budget for this. There’s no room for error. We’ve got enough going against us without someone hurting us like this. I don’t need any more help into the red.”

Many acres hurt

2,4-D, a member of the chlorophenoxy family of herbicides, was first introduced in 1946. At one time, 2,4-D was the most widely used herbicide in the world and it’s still going strong.

Among other uses, the herbicide functions well in a variety of crops: soybeans, rice, corn, wheat, sorghum, sugar cane, soybeans, and pasture. But not cotton.

This is easily seen in east Arkansas where multiple counties have been affected by the recent drift. After visiting with Extension agents and consultants, Bill Robertson says there’s easily upwards of 200,000 to 250,000 acres of damaged cotton in Craighead, Greene, Poinsett, Mississippi and Cross counties.

“The young cotton is taking it on the chin,” says the Arkansas Extension cotton specialist. “Thankfully, for now, the fruit looks okay.

“When I went back to some of the worst-hit fields, it appeared the fruit was showing more symptomology. But I’ve seen fields in Arkansas that looked worse and still held fruit and made a good crop.”

However, there are no guarantees, says Ken Smith, Arkansas Extension weed scientist.

“Will it hurt yields? It’s unpredictable. Often, cotton will grow through 2,4-D damage and do well. Other times, bolls will turn long and slender and won’t open. But as bad as they are, you can’t look at leaf symptoms and say, ‘This crop is ruined.’ It just has to play out.”

Even so, Smith would be surprised if fields that were “really hammered” get a top yield. “Maybe if they’d normally yield 1,200 pounds they’ll now yield 800 pounds. But that’s just for the worst fields.”

Foliar symptoms simply aren’t a good predictor of yield, says Ford Baldwin, consultant and Delta Farm Press contributor. “This damage is real and no one is exaggerating it. But it seems to be badly affecting only younger, more actively growing cotton. I don’t think most of the older, more mature cotton will be hurt. However, several fields of later-planted cotton remained in an active, vegetative growth. The drift had whipped it up, scrapped it up pretty well. Those plants won’t grow out of the damage immediately.”

Temperature inversion

If there is, it’s unlikely they’ll be found out.

“For something so widespread, it won’t be pinned down to a specific application,” says Mike Thompson, director of the Arkansas Plant Board Pesticide Division. “It’s almost assuredly something that was applied in a temperature inversion.”

Baldwin says the Arkansas Plant Board, responsible for investigating drift complaints, has gotten 100-plus 2,4-D drift calls. Most haven’t been formally investigated yet.

That means, says Thompson, “it’s hard to say very much except there are many more (reports) than normal.

“Generally, when we see something as widespread as this, it’s probably not due to a specific application as much as it is volatilization. When you have a product like 2,4-D put out in an inversion…it can sit on top of, say, 100 acres.

“So there’s 100 acres of material just waiting to move. When the wind hits, off it goes. Based on information from Extension and our field inspectors, that’s most likely what happened.”

e-mail: dbennett@farmpress.com