Legislation that would increase fines for farmers who intentionally misapply herbicides has cleared the Missouri House. Bill sponsor Don Rone (R) of southeast Missouri’s Portageville says the current, flat $1,000 fine is not enough to discourage some farmers from using products they think will better serve them. He wants to allow the Missouri Agriculture Department to fine a farmer up to $1,000 per acre for spraying herbicide to a crop for which it is not labeled. Under the proposal, the penalty could be doubled for repeat violators.
The money collected in fines would go to the school district where the crops were damaged. The state’s statutes do not allow the money to go to farmers whose crops were damaged.
The House included an emergency clause to the bill that would take effect immediately if the legislation makes it to the governor’s desk and is signed into law. Some lawmakers, including Rone and Rep. Tracy McCreery (D-St. Louis), hope the bill is signed into law by mid-March.
“On the surface, it might seem like we are trying to put more regulations in place, but we were in a very, very serious situation where neighbors were pitted against neighbors and the Department of Agriculture’s hands were tied. I think this is a really good bill,” says McCreery.” “It gives teeth to the Department of Ag. It allows the Department to have subpoena power if necessary. We’ve got to get out in front of the planting season on this. If we wait until August 28th for this to go into effect, we will have possibly destroyed another millions of millions of dollars in crops.”
Since June, the state Agriculture Department has investigated more than 100 complaints involving crops damaged by a herbicide called dicamba. The complaints, which have come from five southeast Missouri counties and northwest Missouri’s Carroll County, allege damage to soybeans, peaches, watermelons, tomatoes, cotton, peanuts and some alfalfa.
An argument involving the movement of dicamba led to a fatal shooting in Arkansas last October. During debate on the bill, Rone said the fight originated in Missouri and the killing happened in Arkansas.
The proposal is headed to the Senate for consideration.