Dicamba-damaged soybeans

Dicamba latest: Monsanto responds to Arkansas Plant Board actions

Will courts become involved?

On September 21, the Arkansas State Plant Board convened yet again to discuss dicamba. Under heavy pressure from factions both for and against use of the dicamba-tolerant Xtend technology, the board let stand its Pesticide Committee’s earlier recommendation to stick with a proposed April spraying cutoff date for the 2018 growing season.

The next action taken by the board on the topic is expected to be a public hearing in early November. With 900-plus drift complaints registered this year the meeting will likely be lengthy and contentious.

In the lead up to the latest Plant Board meeting, Monsanto released a package of materials opposed to the cutoff date. The package contained letters to the governor and the board along with a petition.

On Tuesday morning (September 26), Scott Partridge, Monsanto vice president of global strategies, spoke with Delta Farm Press about the company’s plans, if the courts will be involved, its obvious unhappiness with the chief Arkansas agricultural regulatory body, and why the company called out individuals in its petition. Among his comments:

On the Plant Board meeting and future plans. Will the court system be involved?

“We’re very disappointed in what the Plant Board did. We presented hundreds of pages of technical data, information, analyses of off-target movement in other states that showed with training and education this problem is solvable. The Plant Board didn’t consider any of the information we provided, didn’t -- obviously, based on how quickly they made their decision – take into account the science testing, the data, the experiences from other states and simply, in an arbitrary fashion, decided to go forward with the April 15 (spraying) ban.

“What I found more disturbing was there was a group representing about a third of the soybean acres grown in Arkansas (amounting to about 1.2 million acres) that wanted to speak. The Plant Board didn’t even let them address the board with their concerns over the April 15 ban.

“It’s a process that’s broken and we’re going to look at all our options. We haven’t made a decision on what we’ll do. I don’t know if the grower community has made a decision yet, either. I do know they’re very disturbed the state of Arkansas will be placed at a disadvantage compared to the 33 other states that have approved (the dicamba-tolerant) technology.

“I was surprised how quickly such a large group of growers got together. It caught me unaware. Frankly, growers are very independent men and women – they have a mind of their own. For a group that large to be united that quickly on a topic is a demonstration to the Plant Board, and I wished they’d listened, that these growers need this tool desperately.

“What we’ve seen in our surveys and fieldwork this year is this product can be used safely and with great effect with proper training, education and equipment. Look at the state of Georgia. Georgia was the only state with mandatory training for the application of dicamba. We didn’t get a single call, text, letter with any concerns from any customers in Georgia. And there was a whole lot of (Xtend) cotton and some soybeans in that state. And there are a lot of (dicamba-sensitive) crops in Georgia. Through training and education they did a spectacular job. That’s the exact opposite of what the Plant Board is creating in Arkansas.”

On how other Mid-South states are addressing dicamba drift…

“Compared to the state of Arkansas, they’re actually looking at the science and information we’ve provided them along with the experiences of growers in their states. They’re going through a rational and deliberate process in evaluating this process.”

When (Monsanto) put the petition in (with the Plant Board) it upset a lot of people in Arkansas because you named names. Have you amended that petition or are you thinking of that going forward?

“Some lawyers are saying we’re assaulting scientists. Nothing could be further from the truth…

“We explained in a factual fashion what we observed with (weed scientist and Delta Farm Press contributor) Ford Baldwin and (University of Arkansas weed scientist) Jason Norsworthy. It’s important in a government process that the process be transparent, fair and objective. It’s also important that process have the appearance of being objective and free from bias.   

“It isn’t an accusation that these individuals are doing something wrong. The Plant Board needs to make sure that as they go forward in this process people have confidence it doesn’t appear to involve bias. It’s up to the Plant Board to determine whether bias exists, or not. It’s for the process to be properly viewed as an objective process and not appear to be influenced by bias. That’s our point.

“What we know about the Arkansas Plant Board process is it’s arbitrary. Why it’s arbitrary, I don’t know. What I do know is it isn’t based on science. And the Plant Board has placed their growers at a tremendous disadvantage and taken away an important tool. A lot of people are looking at their process and they need to make sure that process is one they can defend. Right now, I don’t think they can defend their process.”

Any timeframe for Monsanto to make a decision on its next step?

“We’ll make the decision as quickly as we can. If there’s any chance we have to turn this around – either have the governor step in and do the right thing or other steps we can take which may involve going to court – to ensure this product is available with the proper education, training and tools and in growers’ hands in Arkansas, we’ll do it.

“I fully expect over half the soybean growers in Arkansas demand the Plant Board approve this tool for use. We’ll be standing there with the growers despite the fact the Plant Board is not.”

Have you been in contact with the governor?

“We sent a letter to the governor and we’re awaiting a response.”

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