Weed killer turns neighbor against neighbor in farm country

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A longtime Arkansas soybean farmer, Mike Wallace thought of his neighbors as a community and always was willing to lend a hand if they faced any hardships with their crops.

“Mike would do anything for any farmer,” his wife, Karen, said. “If there was a farmer who got sick in harvest time or planting time or whatever, he would say, ‘What can I do to help? Here’s my equipment. Here’s my guys. Let’s go do it.’”

But across much of farm country, a dispute over a common weed killer is turning neighbor against neighbor. The furor surrounding the herbicide known as dicamba has quickly become the biggest controversy of its kind in U.S. agriculture, and it is even suspected as a factor in Wallace’s death in October, when he was allegedly shot by a worker from a nearby farm where the chemical had been sprayed.

Concern about the herbicide drifting onto unprotected crops, especially soybeans, has spawned lawsuits and prompted Arkansas and Missouri to impose temporary bans on dicamba. Losses blamed on accidental chemical damage could climb into the tens of millions of dollars, if not higher, and may have a ripple effect on other products that rely on soybeans, including chicken.

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The number of complaints “far exceeds anything we’ve ever seen,” Arkansas Plant Board Director Terry Walker recently told lawmakers.

Dicamba has been around for decades, but problems arose over the past couple of years as farmers began to use it on soybean and cotton fields where they planted new seeds engineered to be resistant to the herbicide. Because it can easily evaporate after being applied, the chemical sometimes settles onto neighboring fields. Some farmers illegally sprayed dicamba before federal regulators approved versions that were designed to be less volatile.

The chemical “has made good neighbors look like bad neighbors,” said Reed Storey, an Arkansas farmer who says about half of his soybean crop has shown damage from drifting dicamba.

As the herbicide was put into broader use, complaints began pouring in from farmers in Arkansas and other states. Crops near many dicamba-treated soybean fields turned up with leaves that were cupped and crinkled. The Plant Board has received more than 630 complaints about dicamba so far this year, many more than the 250 or so total complaints normally received in a full year. Complaints have…

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