The legislature has passed a House bill that would toughen penalties for those who illegally apply herbicides.
House Bill 662, sponsored by Portageville Republican Don Rone, was filed in response to incidents last year in which farmers applied the product dicamba, resulting in damage to neighboring farmers’ crops that used seeds not resistant to that herbicide. With Thursday’s vote, the bill goes to Governor Eric Greitens (R) for his consideration.
Under the bill if the Department of Agriculture finds someone has used a particular herbicide on a crop for which its manufacturer did not intend its use, the Department can fine that person up to $10,000. If that person violates the bill’s provisions twice in three years, the fine can be up to $25,000.
The House had proposed fines up to up $1,000 per acre on which the herbicide had been applied and up to $2,000 per acre for what the bill terms “chronic violators.” The Senate changed those fines and the legislature adopted the Senate’s version.
Rone explained the Senate’s proposal could actually be tougher on a violator.
“When you put that into a per-violation, it will become a larger penalty than we had at $1,000 an acre,” said Rone. “What I mean by that is if you look at this document that I just received at our local distributor, there’s 11 items on here that you have to do to use the compound of dicamba. Each one of those, if you don’t do that, is a violation. So this, if you didn’t do any of these things that the label requires you to do, that’s $110,000 for a field, so they really did increase the ability to fine someone for the illegal use of it.”
Rone said farmers whose crops are damaged by improper herbicide application could still go to court to seek civil penalties against those responsible.
The bill includes an emergency clause, which means it would become effective immediately upon being signed by Governor Greitens. Normally legislation goes into effect on August 28 unless otherwise specified.
St. Louis Democrat Tracy McCreery said that emergency clause is important.
“It’s because we’re dealing with planting seasons and growing seasons and that kind of thing, so this absolutely, for it to have any teeth, has to go into effect before August 28 or we will have missed our window of time to make a difference,” said McCreery.
The bill also gives the Department additional powers to investigate claims of illegal uses. Farmers penalized for illegal uses would be liable to the Department for its expenses and for personal property affected.
Fines collected under HB 662 would go to the school district local to the effected farms.
A University of Missouri Extension plant sciences expert told lawmakers 150 or more farmers last year lost an average of 35-percent of the crops when wind and temperature changes caused illegally applied herbicide to spread onto nearby fields.
Though such improper use of herbicides is illegal, Rone said many farmers would still do it if it offered them an advantage because current fines are not enough of a deterrent.
The House voted to pass HB 662, 143-12. Governor Greitens could sign the bill into law, veto it, or allow it to become law without taking action on it. Rone and other legislators are hopeful he will sign it into law in time for farmers to begin work toward planting season.