"Trees that were old" in the 1540s "are damaged and dying"
In May the Arkansas state Plant Board voted to allow farmers to spray the weedkiller dicamba up until June 30 over the top of GM dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton. Farmers had a May 25 cut-off in the past two growing seasons but changes in the board's membership has led to a relaxing of restrictions.
In recent years the Plant Board has instituted some seasonal restrictions over dicamba spraying, going beyond EPA guidelines, in a half-hearted attempt to limit the massive damage caused to crops, trees, and garden plants as the weedkiller drifts off-target.
Gale Stewart is a Little Rock lawyer, farm owner, and plaintiff in a lawsuit attempting to limit use of the chemical. She tried to obtain a restraining order restricting the spraying permission through the courts but failed. She distributed a letter to farmers and others about the ongoing crisis caused by dicamba damage. Here is a slightly edited version of her letter, which can be read in full on the website of the Arkansas Times:
"An order by the Arkansas Supreme Court stayed (stopped) our TRO (temporary restraining order) and moved the deadline for dicamba spraying until June 30, 2021, when it was too hot and humid for it to be applied safely under federal and state requirements. There are widespread reports of damage to crops, trees, gardens, and shrubs and widespread uproar over damages.
"Our valuable ancient forest remnants are under threat, sycamores, cypress, pines and white oak trees in particular. Trees that were old when De Soto crossed the Mississippi [in 1541] are damaged and dying. Soybeans, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and other garden crops are damaged.
"Spraying has also brought arson and intimidation. Terry Fuller, who was chairman of the Arkansas Plant Board until June (and who has been a vocal opponent of the late-season use of dicamba), reported damage to his soybeans on July 1, 2021. By the beginning of his church service on July 4, 2021, someone had burned 40 of his hay bales."
Last year Fuller’s farming operations were also vandalized and 367 bales of his hay were set alight. In 2016 an Arkansas farmer who complained about dicamba damage was murdered.
Stewart continues: "This kind of intimidation is illegal under federal and state law and is possibly a violation of the RICO Act, Racketeering and Corrupt Organizations designed by our own Senator John L. McClellan to target organized crime. It gives lie to the farmer’s motto that 'a farmer would never do anything to damage another farmer'. It is mob intimidation right here in conservative Middle-America and it is a shame on us and flagrant mockery of the rule of law.
"Please be alert to damage to your property and to public property. Please take photographs, note locations, and send complaints to your state representative, state senator, the governor, and the Arkansas Plant Board. ...
"I saw the damage at Old Town Lake at Marianna this last weekend and there were many ancient cypress trees that are in distress. There was also tree damage at the Louisiana Purchase State Park, at the White River Refuge, and on fields near the White River Levee.
"The Arkansas Department of Agriculture has issued a Dicamba Rule Reminder, which I have attached. It contains a form for reporting damage and requesting an investigation.
"Please do not let your discouragement at the slow pace of change stop you from filing a complaint. Government processes move slowly, but they do move in response to popular demand. Basically, up to now, pro-dicamba forces have just been louder than we are, but what is happening is not right. You cannot grow the economy or healthy people in a place that you can’t grow tomatoes, shrubs, and trees.
"You should also complain to your elected officials.... You should also contact the governor and send him your complaints and your photographs.
"You have a constitutional right to be secure in your person, houses, papers, and effects. You certainly have a right to have your land and property free of uninvited air-borne poisons. It may be a slow walk, but you just have to keep on keeping on."
Call to action for Arkansas residents
Gale Stewart mentions that the House and Senate Agriculture, Forestry, and Economic Development Committee is holding a joint meeting on July 19, 2021, at 3:00 pm. She asks Arkansas residents to "contact your State Senator and Representative, attend the meeting if you can, and get on the agenda".
Photo: Pesticide drift damage to a hills oak tree in Nebraska in 2016. Photo by Justin Evertson, Nebraska Forest Service