Two states ban dicamba weed killer after drift complaints

(Reuters) - Missouri joined Arkansas on Friday in banning the use and sale of the weed killer dicamba after a rise in complaints that the agricultural chemical is drifting into neighboring fields and damaging crops, the states agriculture departments said on Friday.

Dicamba use and complaints about its use have spiked in the past two years in the United States. More farmers are spraying it to control hard-to-kill weeds in fields planted with crops bioengineered to survive the chemical, which is produced by Monsanto Co, Germany’s BASF and others.

The bans are the latest regulatory setback for Monsanto, which sells dicamba-tolerant crop seeds and licenses the biotech traits to other seedmakers. Officials in California announced last week that the company’s flagship herbicide glyphosate would be labeled as a probable carcinogen in the state.

“Based on feedback and research, the Department of Agriculture is going to hit the pause button on all dicamba products,” Missouri Director of Agriculture Chris Chinn said in a statement.

Distributors are not allowed to sell it and farmers cannot apply it, effective immediately, but the state will work with industry to develop new handling guidelines as soon as possible, she said.

Missouri has received more than 130 complaints of pesticide drift this year believed to be caused by dicamba, the Missouri Department of Agriculture said.

Arkansas’ 120-day ban will go into effect as soon as paperwork is filed with the Arkansas Secretary of State, said agriculture department spokeswoman Adriane Barnes.

The state’s House and Senate Agriculture Committee voted on Friday to follow recommendations by the Arkansas Plant Board and Governor Asa Hutchinson to ban dicamba use.

The state also approved an increase in fines for illegal use of dicamba to up to $25,000, from $1,000 currently, effective Aug. 1.

Arkansas has logged nearly 600 complaints of crop damage as of Friday, according to the Arkansas Agriculture Department.

Monsanto, which does not have a dicamba formulation approved for sale in Arkansas, called the state’s ban premature but said it would not have a material impact on earnings, said Lisa Safarian, Monsanto’s vice president of North America.

The dicamba-and-seed system, sold under the Xtend name, is Monsanto’s largest-ever technology launch. The company invested more than $1 billion in a dicamba plant in Louisiana and expects U.S. soybean acres planted with the Xtend trait to more than double from 20 million this year to about 55 million in 2019.

Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Bill Trott