Rice vs. Cotton

JANUARY 9, 2007 -- POSTED AT 10:00 P.M. CST

REGION 8 -- The State Plant Board's Pesticide Committee voted unanimously Monday to ban most uses of the herbicide 2, 4-D, a popular cost-effective herbicide used mostly by rice farmers to control weeds.

The recommendation states that the chemical could not be used between April 15 and September 15 in 10 East Arkansas counties: Clay, Greene, Craighead, Poinsett, Mississippi, Cross, Crittenden, St. Francis, Lee and Phillips County. It's a vote that comes after a record 115 complaints in 2006 from cotton farmers with fields east of Crowley's Ridge.

"The herbicide itself is too volatile for our environment. Anything that you can put out according to the regulations and then it still gets up and moves from heat inversions or whatever, temperature inversions, it's just too volatile," says Bill Baker, Poinsett County Cotton Farmer.

The problem is the drift from the rice farms over to the cotton, which in turn can severely damage any cotton crop.

"Me and my son had some fields that were closer to the ridge that experienced like a 300 to 400 pound yield reduction. With the economy and farming as tight as it is now, we cannot afford that," says Baker.

But rice farmers argue that 2, 4-D is the most effective in controlling certain kinds of weeds in their fields. They say it shouldn't be banned, but rather regulated in use.

"We farm at Cash, which is along the Cache River and we have a lot of different kind of weeds than most people have and there's really no other chemical that works for us. There are others that are available for different weeds, but not all the weeds that we have, so it's going to be a hardship for us," says Michael Cureton, a Craighead County Rice Farmer.

It's a ban that if passed could financially hurt rice farmers, but if ignored, could kill a cotton crop.

"It's coming across like it's a cotton rice issue, but to me it's not. It's the people that are applying the chemical properly and the people that are not. That's the problem," says Cureton.

"We're not upset at the rice farmer or anyone else, we're just asking for some help in regards to making sure that it's applied properly," says Cureton.

Although the pesticide committee has unanimously voted to recommend the ban, the state plant board will still have to make the final decision. If passed by the state plant board, all aerial and ground applications of the herbicide would be banned in those 10 counties, with pricey fee based exemptions available to some farmers who still want to use the herbicide. The board usually meets quarterly, but may call a special meeting to vote early on this issue.