Balancing rice/tomato interests

To protect Arkansas' tomato crop, which is often hemmed in by surrounding row-crop land, restrictions have been placed on the herbicide Facet. In recent years, because of drift problems on tomatoes and other crops, the product has faced criticism and restrictions.

“In some areas, we've got from a half-mile to a 4-mile buffer zone around tomato operations,” says Mike Thompson, director of the Arkansas State Plant Board pesticide division. “Those buffer zones depend on whether Facet is put out in a mix with water (half mile) or put in a tank-mix with emulsifiable concentrate (4-mile buffer).

“If you're going to tank mix, the manufacturer of the product to be tank-mixed with Facet must provide information to show that adding their product won't cause drift any worse than if it was mixed just with water,” says Thompson.

There are also some no-application zones around Crowley's Ridge in Poinsett and Craighead counties. Then there are areas where the product can be applied through ground-rig only. Further out, Facet can be flown on.

“The restrictions have been a progressive thing,” says Thompson. “I first began working (at the Plant Board) in 1996. That year, the first set of use restrictions were made for (Facet). As more information about the product came in, we revised those restrictions through 1999.”

From 1996 through 1999, quite a number of complaints about Facet were filed. Complaints grew from around 30 to over 100.

“That doesn't mean all those were valid. Regardless, after the restrictions were put into place, Facet complaints (moved into) the range of the average (herbicide) — we get complaints on virtually all herbicides.”

Thompson says the Plant Board has not been asked to add to the restrictions.

“Every year, one tomato grower asks us to not register Facet for use in the state. But we don't see a particular reason for that. We feel the product is needed by other growers so it's our responsibility to find some middle ground that provides protection for tomato growers as well as allow rice farmers to use it.”

Every complaint the Plant Board receives alleging a pesticide misuse, obligates dispatching an inspector.

“Our inspectors have a thorough procedure they're required to follow during an investigation. Inspectors will track symptomology to what's believed to be a source field. They'll visit farmers, applicators, get records, written statements, and photo-document each step. And then, if necessary and based on a penalty matrix, civil penalties are assessed. Both the applicator and the farmer are responsible.”

Thompson says there have been penalties for misuse of Facet.

Penalties are at five levels. Unless there is human exposure, the first penalty is a letter of warning. If within a three-year period an offender has another label violation, a fine will cost from $200 to $800. The monetary penalties increase until spraying license is forfeit. Once three years passes without a violation, the record is wiped clean.

“This has been an issue every since I've been here and was before I got here. I think the Plant Board has reacted responsibly to this. It hasn't been easy because there have been strong feelings from all sides.”

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