Trey Kay, Loretta Williams, Mitch Hanley Published

Use Of A Weedkilling Herbicide Has Stoked An ‘Us & Them’ Divide In Arkansas


There’s a weedkiller used across the country that’s created a new divide between farmers. In Arkansas, people who work the land are at odds over a herbicide called dicamba. In this episode of Us & Them, host Trey Kay and reporter Loretta Williams follow up on a story that’s gotten ugly over the past couple years.

A newer version of the herbicide is designed to give soybean and cotton farmers a way during the growing season to combat pigweed, a tenacious plant that can take over fields. However, there’s evidence that the chemical can evaporate from where it was sprayed and move to harm other plants. It’s become so controversial that some farmers and backyard gardeners are afraid to complain about crop or plant damage.

On the other side of the debate, farmers who want to use the herbicide have gone to court and challenged who gets to make the rules about pesticide use in the state. Rural farm communities are typically tight-knit and if one farmer has a problem with another, they meet at what is called the “turn row” to talk things out.

But that’s not what’s happening in Arkansas. The atmosphere has gotten just plain un-neighborly.

This episode of Us & Them is presented with support from the West Virginia Humanities Council and the CRC Foundation.

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Two adult men stand next to each other in a field. The sky is blue with some white clouds. One man has headphones on and holds a recorder. The other man answers questions.
Terry Fuller, former member of the Arkansas Plant Board, shows Us & Them host Trey Kay the place where several of his hay bales were set ablaze not long after he made public statements calling to limit the use of a special formulation of dicamba during the growing season. Fuller also says that two of his tractors were vandalized which caused more than $60,000 worth of damage.

Photo Credit: Loretta Williams
An adult man stands next to signs. One reads "Arkansas Pigweed Population Sponsored by Terry Fuller & Arkansas Plant Board," and the other reads, "All We Want for Christmas is a New Plant Board."
Terry Fuller, former member of the Arkansas Plant Board, displays a couple of signs that have repeatedly been posted alongside the roads near his house. One sign could be seen from his daughter’s bedroom window on Christmas Day.

Photo Credit: Loretta Williams
A middle age man wearing a ball cap and glasses stands next to a red semi truck. On the truck door, there is text that reads, "Coy's Honey Farm, Jonesboro, AR, Perkinston, MS, 870-932-0034, 601-928-5147."
Richard Coy’s family has been in the honey producing business since the 1960s. Over the years, Coy’s Honey Farm became the largest commercial bee business in Arkansas. Coy claims dicamba has had an adverse effect on the plant life necessary for honey bees to thrive and produce honey. He says the conditions got so bad that he and his family had to move their business outside of Arkansas and into Mississippi.

Photo Credit: Loretta Williams
An adult man, balding, trimmed gray beard, speaks into a microphone at an event. He stands at a podium.
Franklin Fogelman, a soybean farmer in Arkansas, speaking at a special session of the Arkansas Plant Board in 2019. He believes farmers like him need to be able to use dicamba during the growing season to control weeds in their fields.

Photo Credit: Loretta Williams
An adult man with brown hair and a beard speaks into a microphone at a podium. He wears a tweed jacket and yellow shirt.
Reed Storey, a soybean and cotton farmer, opposes the use of the newer formulations of dicamba during the growing season because he believes the herbicide can harm the crops of neighboring farmers. He sees this as “big agriculture against smaller growers.”

Photo Credit: Loretta Williams
An older, adult man with white hair kept trimmed short stands on grass and gestures as if he is speaking to someone. He wears a light green button up shirt.
Charles “Bo” Sloan is the manager of the Dale Bumpers White River Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas. He says he’s learned that dicamba can “get up and walk.” By this he means that the weed killer has a tendency to volatilize when the weather gets above 85 degrees. When dicamba volatilizes, the chemical transforms from a liquid to a gas and can move to other locations in ways that are difficult, if not impossible, to track. Sloan has heard the complaints that dicamba might adversely impact agriculture, and is also worried that it might be harming the environment in some of the nation’s protected lands.

Photo Credit: Trey Kay/West Virginia Public Broadcasting