While it faces restrictions and has been cited as the villain in drift complaints, Facet remains an extremely popular herbicide among Arkansas rice farmers. The BASF product “is by far the best salvage grass control product we've got, and it's versatile,” says Chuck Wilson, Arkansas Extension rice specialist.

But sometimes Facet is a problem child. While it roughs weeds up, it can be equally unsympathetic to any tomatoes it comes into contact with. In February, a trial is scheduled to hear tomato growers' claims that the product ruined their crops after drifting from nearby rice fields.

Leaving aside the court case and its merits, and acknowledging that there is no indication that the product is in label trouble, what would happen if Facet was lost to rice farmers? How integral is the product for rice farmers?

“If Facet were lost, it would be significant,” says Wilson. “Facet has some advantages over Command. One of the suggestions has been that if Facet were lost, Command could take its place. But Command is straight grass control and has no post-emergence activity.

“Facet, on the other hand, has both pre-emergence and postemergence activity on grasses. Many growers use Facet in their tank mixes. It also provides control of coffeebeans and morningglories.”

As far as the later-season salvage applications, Wilson says Facet has the best activity on big grass. Clincher probably is the herbicide most competitive with Facet in terms of activity.

“But, in my opinion, Clincher just isn't consistent enough or reliable enough compared to Facet.

“Regiment is another compound that folks point to. But it has a limited grass spectrum — basically barnyardgrass is its main focus, so it doesn't have any activity on broadleaf signalgrass and other significant problem weeds.”

Wilson says Ricestar is another product worth mentioning. “Pre-flood, the problem with Ricestar is that, to be effective, grass has to be extremely small. Once grass gets any size, Ricestar has trouble controlling it. Clincher is the same way applied pre-flood. Post-flood, Clincher does have some activity on bigger grass, but it's inconsistent.”

All of those compounds look “really good” when tank-mixed with Facet, though.

Wilson says there are “rumblings about Ordram being taken off the market. Poinsett County rice farmers, if they ever lost both Ordram and Facet, would be in a bad situation. They'd be forced to rely on Clincher for late-season grass control.”

Currently, there are regions around Crowley's Ridge where Facet is banned from use because of drift troubles on nearby tomato fields (see accompanying story).

There are other areas where it can be sprayed with ground rigs.

“One of the ideas floated has been to just take Poinsett County off the Facet label,” says Wilson. “Well, that would eliminate pretty big acreage of rice that's utilizing Facet routinely. A county agent I visited last week said it would be a significant blow — especially (with Ordram label renewal questions). If that happens, and that area has future trouble with propanil-resistant barnyardgrass, it'll be trouble. They're running out of tools to control weeds.”

Bob Scott agrees. The Arkansas Extension weed specialist (and one-time employee of BASF) says Facet is a “huge” product in rice — akin to atrazine in corn.

“It's critical,” says Scott. “There are other options now, and some farmers can get by without it. But we still use a lot of Facet because it works so well. If we lost Facet, it would cause a lot of changes to recommendations in many counties. One of the biggest things it would do is eliminate a tool for controlling barnyardgrass.

“I'd hate that because there is so much propanil-resistant barnyardgrass right now. If we start relying solely on Clincher or some other product, we'd lose those if resistance popped up. And, once Facet goes away, it probably couldn't be brought back.”

Worries about resistant barnyardgrass aren't without cause. Poinsett County, where many of the drift complaints originate and many of the restrictions on the product are, was the first to find propanil-resistant barnyardgrass.

“There's no doubt that around here we worry about weeds developing resistance,” says Rick Thompson, Poinsett County Extension agent. “And with good reason: propanil-resistant barnyardgrass started in this county. When you rely on one herbicide, selecting out resistant plants is much more likely. Clincher is an excellent product, but it can't do it all.”

How have farmers dealt with the Facet restrictions?

“The restrictions put a crimp in our weed-fighting for a while,” acknowledges Thompson. “When we got Command, it helped considerably. Now, is Command a long-term solution? I don't know. But I know if EPA removes any of our herbicides, that's one fewer weapon in our arsenal.”

Ken Smith, Extension weed scientist, says the state would “really miss” Facet in soils that are sensitive to Command. “We wouldn't have a suitable grass herbicide in that situation — there are a lot of areas where Command can't be used due to proximity to sensitive crops or shallow soils. Folks who have had bad experiences with Command have gone to Facet.

“From talking with growers, Facet use has increased. It seems more Facet has gone out this year than in years before. Farmers like Facet as a complement to Command — they put out Command and then come back with Facet, which gives some residual control to carry them through flood.”

It is estimated that in 1992 Facet was applied to 12 percent of the rice acres in Arkansas. Five years later, Facet spraying had increased to 33 percent of rice acres. In 2003, it was estimated the product was applied to 35 percent of the state's 1.5 million rice acres.

The use pattern has shifted some from the early days of Facet, says Smith. “Early use was almost all pre-emergence to the rice. Now, over half of the Facet used is postemergence to the rice when weeds are very small. This use of Facet has provided farmers with a much-needed tool in a very critical timing window when other products do not fit as well. The loss of (Facet) would be a major problem for rice farmers throughout the rice growing areas of this country.”

Since Facet restrictions have been imposed and people have become well-aware of problems the product can cause, the number of drift complaints have plunged, Scott says.

“Facet complaints represent a very small portion of the workload of the Arkansas State Plant Board compared to, say, Roundup complaints,” he notes. “At the same time, though, the producers growing tomatoes have every right to grow their crop. While I mainly cover rice — and it would hurt us if Facet were to ever go away — we've got to figure out a way for the crops to co-exist.”

According to the Arkansas Agricultural Statistics Service, in 2002, harvested tomato acres were at 1,200 acres. This year, state planting intentions for rice alone were at 1.466 million acres.


e-mail: dbennett@primediabusiness.com