Arkansas Game and Fish Commissioner Stan Jones made an impassioned presentation on Aug. 30, in which he and a number of other speakers condemned the use of a popular herbicide, dicamba – a substance they argued had caused extensive ecological damage across much eastern Arkansas in a way that cannot be effectively regulated. Designed to kill broadleaf weeds and commonly used with dicamba-resistant varieties of soybeans and cotton, the herbicide frequently spreads to areas other than those to which it has been applied.
Before 2015, dicamba’s primary use in row crop agriculture was to aid field clearing after cold winter months, killing the weeds that had sprung up in the meantime, to make way for crops. Since 2015, the chemical has become more commonly sprayed directly onto the crops, to eliminate weeds creep around them much later into the year, including summer. The real concern with dicamba is not its ability to kill plant life, but` its volatility and “off-target” impact: when sprayed on a field, dicamba does not remain on the plants and the ground as a liquid like most other herbicides. Rather, it floats suspended just above the ground as a gas overnight. In the morning, during hot summer months, warm air lifts the herbicide back into the air, where it can be carried wherever the wind transports it, traveling potentially for miles. This migratory pattern is termed “chemical trespassing” – an illegal phenomenon. Even worse, dicamba does not leave the same kind of obvious trail of other herbicides. As a result, its provenance can’t be easily traced back to any particular individual, making laws against such chemical trespassing extremely difficult to enforce.
According to the presentation, one study estimated that dicamba affects 1.5 times more area than it is used to treat. As it is frequently used by farmers all across the highly agricultural parts of eastern Arkansas, vast swaths of woodlands, wildlife conservation areas and other farms and gardens full of plants vulnerable to dicamba have been chronically damaged by the chemical over several years’ use. Jones recounted a personal experience in which a family member’s garden full of tomatoes were rendered inedible, and a pecan tree that had produced large quantities of nuts for decades was now yielding none whatsoever. He compared the use of dicamba to secondhand smoke or asbestos, questioning why everyone else is forced to suffer for the convenience of large-scale farmers who unlawfully employ the herbicide.