At a recent meeting of the Arkansas State Plant Board Pesticide Committee, a recommendation was made to ban the aerial application of 2,4-D statewide between April 15 and Sept. 15.

I have received calls from several rice farmers and aerial applicators that were not happy with the recommendation. The callers went on to say they had been led to believe that I was on record in support of this action.

I was not in attendance at the meeting where this action was taken. I did attend the previous committee meeting where several cotton farmers spoke about the problems they were having with 2,4-D drift on cotton. I was at the meeting for an entirely different reason but was asked several questions about the issue and answered them to the best of my ability.

I will attempt to convey my thoughts on the 2,4-D issue.

Cotton is more sensitive to 2,4-D than any other crop to any other herbicide that I am aware of. People will always argue whether the problem is due to volatility or drift. The major factor though is simply the sensitivity of the crop to the herbicide.

This means you may be able to apply any other herbicide in the same manner that you made the 2,4-D application and not have a problem. This causes a lot of applicators to believe there was something different about the way the spray behaved. In most cases, though, the problem is a matter of the sensitivity of the crop.

There have been some problems with 2,4-D through the years — ever since I went to work for the University of Arkansas in 1974. A lot of regulations have changed through the years and I had to participate in the process for most of them.

For the most part, the current regulations have worked well in most areas of the state. There have been a few “hot spots” where a problem would occur in an area on a one-time basis. Most of these could be traced back to a single application that usually involved some sort of violation of the current regulations.

The exception has been in northeast Arkansas — primarily the Crowley’s Ridge area. There have consistently been more problems in Clay County, for example, than in other areas of the state.

This year I observed 2,4-D injury symptoms on cotton from the Poinsett/Cross county line to the Arkansas/Missouri state line. My thoughts at the time was, “If it has come down to this, we can farm rice without 2 4-D.”

We have alternatives, although they are more expensive. In areas where rice and cotton are intercropped, rice farmers have been using alternatives to 2,4-D for years. This makes a good argument for not using 2,4-D statewide.

It sounds simple, but there is another side. Unlike Mississippi, for example, where 2,4-D can not be used by air on rice, there are a lot of areas in Arkansas where cotton and rice are not intercropped. Farmers in these areas are asking, “Why are we being penalized for problems occurring in other parts of the state?” That is a very valid point.

While 2,4-D is more economical, it can also be less injurious on early-season soybeans than Grandstand, which is the primary alternative to 2,4-D applied at midseason.

It is my understanding a lot of violations were found during the investigations on 2,4-D drift this summer. Proper enforcement action can help prevent it from happening again. However, that does nothing for the farmer who had the problem, because it does nothing to tie any particular application to a particular farmer’s acreage.

There is no question that the current regulations are not working in the Crowley’s Ridge area of the state. It was my opinion this year that most of the 2,4-D symptoms that I observed on the east side of the ridge came from the west side — which is primarily a rice-growing area. I am sure changes will be made to address this.

The question is not whether something needs to be done about the problem, but whether a statewide ban is necessary. I work almost exclusively in rice, but I do not want to see any cotton farmer hurt by 2,4-D. If a statewide ban is required to accomplish this, then I would go on record as supporting it.

At present, however, this would seem to be an extreme approach. A more logical approach would be to fix the problem where the problem is and see if it continues to be safely used in areas where no problems are occurring.

If I were a cotton farmer, I would want 2,4-D banned worldwide. If I were a rice farmer in an area where no problems are occurring, I would want to continue to use it.

The way the system works is at some point there will be a public hearing where anyone wishing to voice his opinion will have the opportunity. The entire Arkansas State Plant Board will then take the recommendation of the Pesticide Committee along with the comments made at the public hearing and make a final decision. You have the opportunity to participate in the process.

This is a difficult issue, but, in the end, I am confident a fair decision will be made.

e-mail: ford@weedconsultants.com