February 27, 2017

Penalty for illegally applying herbicides may increase

JEFFERSON CITY -- The state House has proposed tougher penalties for farmers who intentionally misapply herbicides. Such applications have cost some farmers crops and the money invested in them, as highlighted by incidents in Southeast Missouri last year.

Representative Don Rone said fines had to be great enough to hurt some farmers' bottom line before they would stop illegal application of herbicides.

The University of Missouri said 150 or more farmers lost an average of 35-percent of their crops when neighboring operations illegally used an outdated dicamba product. When that product spread onto nearby fields planted with seeds not resistant to dicamba, they were damaged.

Farmers can now be fined $1,000 for applying herbicide to a crop for which it is not labeled. House Bill 662 would let the Department of Agriculture fine a farmer up to $1,000 for every acre herbicide is applied to, off-label. The fine could be doubled for repeat violators.

The bill is sponsored by Portageville Republican Don Rone, who said the current, flat $1,000 fine is not enough to discourage some farmers from using products they think will better serve them.

"What this does is just basically give the state the ability go after the people that misuse herbicides in the state," said Rone.

The money collected in fines would go to the school district local to the affected fields. Rone explained the state’s statutes prevent it from giving that money to farmers who suffered damage.

"The state cannot make farmers whole. They can issue fines but they can’t make the farmer whole," said Rone. "That takes the action of a court, or in the old days when I first started farming, if I hurt you, I’d come to you and say, ‘Gentleman how much do you think that I hurt you?’ and I’d write you a check."

The House voted to add an emergency clause to the bill, which would make it effective immediately upon being signed into law by the governor. Rone hopes the bill can clear the Senate and be signed into law by mid-March so that it will be in effect for the new planting season.