Following years of complaints about drift-damaged crops, the Arkansas Plant Board has a new set of recommended regulations to consider. The work of two Extension specialist-heavy task forces — one for 2,4-D and one for glyphosate — and the board’s pesticide committee, the proposed regulations have been compiled over the last few months.
“Right now, these regulations are nothing more than asking the full Plant Board to take what the pesticide committee recommended to public hearing,” says George Tidwell, chairman of both the full Arkansas Plant Board and pesticide committee. “If that’s done, at public hearing everyone will be invited to express the pros or cons of the proposed regulation changes.”
To see the proposed regulations, go to http://www.deltafarmpress.com/images/070117-arkansas-regulations and http://www.deltafarmpress.com/images/070117-glyphosate-regulations.
If taken to a public hearing, the public comment period is 30 days. Those wanting to be heard will be able to send in written statements or attend the meeting and give an oral statement.
Following that, the full board will accept, reject or modify the recommendations.
The Plant Board’s next quarterly meeting is in March. But Tidwell suspects “we’ll have to have two called meetings to get this done in time for the 2007 growing season.”
The Plant Board’s Pesticide Committee is urging increased regulations on 2,4-D products and, in 10 counties, a prohibition on ground or aerial application between April 15 and Sept. 30. The affected counties are: Clay, Green, Craighead, Poinsett, Mississippi, Cross, Crittenden, St. Francis, Lee, and Phillips.
“Worst hit have been the first five counties,” says Darryl Little, Arkansas Plant Board director. “The rest were included because they run down Crowley’s Ridge. The environmental conditions and geography are such that (2,4-D drift) could happen there, as well.”
2,4-D, a member of the chlorophenoxy family of herbicides, was first introduced in 1946. At one time, it was the most widely used herbicide in the world.
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.
2,4-D drift has “in many unfortunate ways become a rice/cotton issue,” says Ford Baldwin, weed scientist and Delta Farm Press contributor who was on the drift task forces. “Most of the cotton that’s had a problem with drift is on the east side of Crowley’s Ridge.
“That’s a long way from the closest rice field to the closest cotton — all the way across the ridge. The rice farmers west of the ridge can’t figure out how the drift could be coming from them. And it shouldn’t be.
“It’s probably ignorance, poor judgment or ‘just don’t care’ on the part of a very few people. It’s a shame that very few people are causing regulations to be put in place for everyone.”
Baldwin has heard from many rice farmers. “They say, ‘Man, we need 2,4-D in a big way.’ And they do even though there are alternatives. I make my living in rice, and I know it’s much easier to deal with weed control when a farmer has 2,4-D as an option.”
It’s rare that 2,4-D drift has been traced to the source.
“When drift comes from that far away, there’s no way to trace it. That means there’s no recourse for the cotton farmers. So, there are cotton farmers wanting 2,4-D canceled and rice farmers insisting they have to use it. How do you square that?”
The Plant Board must play the role of Solomon. What’s the fairest, most equitable solution for all?
Bob Scott has become very familiar with the problem of 2,4-D drift on cotton.
“Seeing this damage has become the norm,” says the Arkansas Extension weed specialist. “The leaves become crinkled and epinasty occurs. The cotton leaves can look like silly putty and be all stretched out.”
The proposed regulations “will affect primarily mid-season 2,4-D applications in rice. Those sprayings are the most likely drift suspects because cotton typically begins showing symptoms shortly after the rice applications.”
How much cotton yields are hurt from 2,4-D drift is unpredictable.
“Often, cotton will grow through 2,4-D damage and do well,” said Ken Smith, Arkansas Extension weed specialist, last summer after a major drift event (see http://deltafarmpress.com/news/060815-arkansas-cotton/index.html).
“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 are “really hammered” produce 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.”
With so many Roundup Ready crops in Arkansas, between 10 million to 12 million gallons of glyphosate are sprayed annually. The only non-Roundup crop of significant acreage is rice. It isn’t a coincidence that glyphosate drift has been especially bad on rice.
“This year, we didn’t have as much glyphosate drift on late rice,” says Scott. “But in the past, we have seen late-season drift.”
Some of the early rice will grow out of drift damage. But it isn’t a simple matter of hope and time — there are costs associated with bringing the crop back to health.
“In more severe cases, there are yield losses,” says Scott. “And for rice that doesn’t lose yield, it’s often because a farmer puts an extra 100 pounds of fertilizer on it, pulls water off or other things. The point is, there are management costs associated with glyphosate drift.”
After rice goes into reproductive stages, “you’ll see drift cause funky-looking seed heads, the shortened flag-leafs, the parrot-beaked or fish-hooked looks. When those symptoms show up, farmers’ yields definitely dip — sometimes between 50 percent and 70 percent.”
The problem with trying to come up with a solution for glyphosate drift is the many other glyphosate-tolerant crops that must be considered. Glyphosate is the primary herbicide for cotton, soybeans and corn.
“You can’t regulate yourself out of business in those crops,” says Baldwin. “So, for glyphosate, the task force and committee have taken a different approach to 2,4-D. I believe we’ll end up with more of an educational approach. Glyphosate may also be given its own class of chemistry, increased requirements to procure a license to apply it, and additional educational efforts.”
The new glyphosate recommendations are statewide.
“What they amount to is the owner and operator in the private sector — in other words, the owner of the spray rig and the man who’s driving it — must meet the same qualifications as commercial applicators,” says Tidwell.
The glyphosate proposals are heavily weighted to education.
“A new category could be created for glyphosate,” says Baldwin. “A pesticide license may be required to buy glyphosate in large quantities. That’s just like any other restricted-use pesticide.
“Also, all the record-keeping and spray-rig inspections (for those with large boom widths) are in place. The target wasn’t a guy spraying from his 4-wheeler.”
For spraying violations, “we usually start with a warning letter,” says Little. “We then work up to a maximum fine of $2,000. With the (proposed) regulations, though, the Plant Board could instruct staff to start with a $1,000 penalty and then go up. Right now, the penalty is capped at $2,000 by statute.”
Little says if the $2,000 cap is to be raised, it would have to be done by the state legislature.
“The immediate $1,000 fine is targeted at someone who goes out with total disregard for the regulations,” says Tidwell. “Or someone that knowingly goes out in conditions that will damage his neighbor.”
Asked about the legislature increasing the fine cap, Tidwell says, “That’s a complex issue. For most folks, $2,000 is a pretty hard hit. But, bottom line, if that doesn’t get a violator’s attention, we can pull the license and take his livelihood away. To me, that’s about the maximum penalty you can assess a person.”
Baldwin is for more stringent oversight. “Everyone agrees that if the rules currently in place were followed, there would be no reason for the new regulations.
“But what’s happened — and it’s been the same since I started in Extension in 1974 — is we regulate herbicides because the violators aren’t adequately punished. These new regulations call for a big jump in penalties. Now, a warning letter can also hold a bill for $1,000. That should help wake folks up.”