House asked to consider tougher penalties for illegal herbicide use that cost farmers crops

The House is considering a bill meant to stop illegal herbicide use that in 2016 cost 150 or more farmers part of their crops.

Representative Don Rone (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Don Rone (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Kevin Bradley with the University of Missouri told the House Committee on Agriculture Policy those farmers lost an average of 35-percent of their crops, when neighboring farmers used an outdated dicamba product.  Wind and temperature changes caused that product to spread onto nearby fields.  Because the product was drifting onto fields not planted with seeds resistant to it, those crops were damaged.

Bradley said some farmers did not want to answer its questions, so more than 150 might have been impacted.

Portageville Republican Don Rone has sponsored House Bill 662, which would fine a farmer a civil penalty of $1,000 for every acre on which a product is spread illegally.  The current fine is a flat $1,000, which Rone says is not enough.

“I think $1,000 an acre is a substantial deterrent to a grower to misuse a compound,” Rone told the committee.

That per-acre fine would be doubled for farmers who repeatedly violate the new law.  The money collected in fines would go to the local school district.

The bill would also give the Department of Agriculture additional powers to investigate claims of illegal uses.  Farmers penalized for illegal use would be liable to the Department for its expenses and for personal property affected.

It would also require the makers of dicamba or other volatile compounds to train those using them, and require those wishing to use them to complete that training before they can buy it.

Farmers who sustain losses would not receive compensation under the bill, and would still have to seek it by taking those responsible to court.

Rone’s bill includes an emergency clause, which would make it effective immediately upon being signed by the governor.  He said without that, the law would take effect in August; that’s too late to impact the 2017 planting season.

He wants to see it become law before legislators go on their spring break next month.

“If we can’t make this cross the finish line before break, there’s no use of even … it’s not going to affect much because it’s not going to have any bearing on what they can do and what they can’t do,” Rone said.

HB 662 has the support of the Missouri Soybean Association, the Missouri Corn Growers Association, and the Missouri Farm Bureau.  No one testified against it in the hearing.

The committee is anticipated to vote on Rone’s bill on Tuesday.