Despite Ban, Arkansas Farmers Still Use Controversial Weedkiller

October 9, 2018

By Dan Charles

The fields and back roads of eastern Arkansas were a crime scene this past summer. State inspectors stopped alongside fields to pick up dying weeds. They tested the liquids in farmers' pesticide sprayers. In many cases, they found evidence that farmers were using a banned pesticide. Dozens of farmers could face thousands of dollars in fines.

The roots of the confrontation go back to a farming fiasco that took place last year. That's when the company Monsanto — now owned by Bayer — rolled out a new way to kill weeds. The company had created some special new varieties of soybeans and cotton. They can tolerate a weedkiller called dicamba. Farmers could spray dicamba to kill their weeds, yet these new crops would survive. (It's a weed-killing strategy that Monsanto pioneered with "Roundup Ready" crops 20 years ago, but Roundup isn't working so well anymore. Weeds have evolved resistance to it.)

"Honestly, I don't think anybody in the whole world dreamed the dicamba could create such an issue, bring so many farmers against farmers," says Terry Fuller, a member of Arkansas' State Plant Board, which regulates pesticides.

When farmers started spraying dicamba on these new crops, the chemical didn't stay where it belonged. It drifted across the landscape. It injured millions of acres of regular crops. The problem was especially bad in Arkansas.

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