Unfortunately, too many Arkansas rice farmers know how damaging glyphosate drift can be to their crop. Now, the state’s Plant Board has set up the Glyphosate Drift Task Force to tackle the drift issue.

After several summer meetings, the committee is “still in a ‘throwing out ideas and getting a plan together’ phase,” says Ford Baldwin, a consultant and Delta Farm Press contributor on the task force. “Nothing has been set in concrete yet.”

Currently, besides Baldwin, the task force is made up of University of Arkansas Extension employees and led by Mike Thompson, the director of the Plant Board Pesticide Division. Others on the force: Bob Scott, weed specialist; Chuck Wilson, rice specialist; Ken Smith, weed scientist; Rick Cartwright, plant pathologist; and Dennis Gardisser, engineer.

“The committee is continuing discussions on whether there needs to be changes in the regulatory approach, whether there needs to be education, whether the specific products need to be looked at,” says Thompson. “The (task force’s) job is cut out for it. I’m sure it’ll come up with something that will…be available for public comment.”

Is there a timetable for recommendations?

“We don’t have one. But what we want to do is have enough information gathered and have something in place to provide protection for the 2007 crop season. They may get something together sooner than that.”

Regardless, says Thompson, “We’ve got good, well-educated people sitting on this task force. I’ve worked with them over the years and they’re bringing the best available information to the table. Whatever is done will be based on the expertise of some very knowledgeable people.”

After the task force’s first meeting, “there was a lot of discussion about names that should be involved — farmers, industry reps, you name it,” says Baldwin. “The decision was made that if we started doing that the group would be so big it wouldn’t be able to function. So, the decision was made to leave the task force as it is.”

Once the task force comes up with a set of recommendations, “other (agriculture leaders) should be brought in and involved. We must give other groups an opportunity for input and comment. We’re not operating solo, here — the task force will seek direction from a lot of folks.”

The need for action on drift is urgent, says Ken Smith. Unlike the current 2,4-D drift situation in cotton (where there’s one big area with a problem), “glyphosate drift can be, and is, all over the place. Cotton farmers obviously know how sensitive their crop is to 2,4-D. Well, rice is just as sensitive to glyphosate after panicle initiation.”

Once rice moves into the reproductive stage after flooding, “a whiff” of glyphosate will cause blank heads.

“Heads will be produced without seeds and yields are hurt badly. Earlier this year, there was a lot of visual symptomology in the state. A farmer would call and say, ‘Something’s wrong with my rice.’ We’d go have a look and it’d be yellowing and sick and it was pretty obvious glyphosate was the cause.

“If it’s on young rice and the plants survive, it’ll likely cause a delay in harvest of a week. But most of the surviving plants will reproduce okay.”

However, rice hit after the reproductive phase is often severely damaged.

“Instead of cutting 170 bushels, you might cut 80 bushels. That’s why farmers are so frightened by drift and why it must be addressed.”

Glyphosate drift has become such a widespread problem and rice farmers are taking such a massive hit every year, “the Plant Board had to get involved,” says Smith. “The task force’s job is to find a way to alleviate, if not solve, the problem with drift.”

As producers move to bigger acreage, equipment and debt, pressures to get across the field — often in poor spraying conditions — are increasing.

“None of that is conducive to managing off-target drift,” says Smith. “It lends itself to a mindset of ‘get across more acres in less time.’ That means hasty decisions are made and, at an alarming rate, off-target drift is picking up.”

e-mail: dbennett@farmpress.com