Arkansas Judge Rules Six Farmers Can Spray Popular Pesticide on Their Crops

Published June 6, 2018

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox ruled six Arkansas farmers may spray a weed killer manufactured by Monsanto Co and BASF on their crops despite a ban on the pesticide imposed by the Arkansas Plant Board (APB) in 2017.

After fielding complaints from hundreds of farmers the pesticide Dicamba had drifted off site from the farms were it was applied, damaging soybeans and other crops and plants on nearby farms, the APB banned Dicamba use during the spring and summer growing season from April 16 through Oct. 31 statewide.

Monsanto markets dicamba to be used only with their specific genetically modified (GM) soybeans and cotton that are engineered to be resistant to the chemical. Farmers not planting Monsanto’s strain of soybeans and cotton complained the herbicide drifted beyond where it was sprayed, damaging their crops.

Monsanto and BASF say their herbicides are safe when used properly. Monsanto had sued to the Arkansas Agriculture Department, which the APB is a part of, for banning the herbicide, but Arkansas courts tossed the lawsuit, holding the state had sovereign immunity and could not be sued for its actions.

Farmers Go To Court

Six Arkansas farmers who plant Monsanto’s GM crops sued to nullify the April 16 cutoff date. Fox ruled on Friday the six farmers can spray dicamba-based herbicides past an April 15 cutoff date that applies to other farmers across the state.

On March 30, Fox dismissed the case, following a recent Arkansas Supreme Court decision the state cannot be a defendant in court. However, he granted the farmers’ abilities to spray beyond the deadline ruling they were exempt from the rule because the state’s sovereign immunity claims rendered them unable to exercise due process rights to have their case heard in court and damages awarded.

Grant Ballard, the attorney representing the farmers, says while the state’s sovereign immunity does not vitiate his clients’ rights to claim relief or seek damages.

“The Constitution requires some sort of remedy for their damage,” Ballard told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. “That’s a fundamental part of due process.

“Long story short, the judge said there is no remedy for us, that our clients’ due process rights were violated and, as a consequence the ban was void … like it never occurred,” said Ballard.

Shortly after the ban went into effect on April 16, 155 additional farmers filed suit in two separate cases in Phillips and Mississippi counties to have the ban nullified.

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.