Agribusiness organizations and large agriculture lobbies are lining up against environmental advocates and smaller agriculture groups on a bill to change how Kansas designates problem weeds and targets them for eradication.
The Kansas Cooperative Council, Kansas Agribusiness Retailers Association and Kansas Livestock Association support House Bill 2479, which would transfer the authority for designating “noxious” weeds from the Legislature to the Kansas agriculture secretary.
The livestock association represents more than 5,000 ranchers, dairy farmers, feedlot owners and others. Its senior vice president, Mike Beam, told the House Agriculture Committee on Tuesday that weeds that choke off valuable grazing grasses can proliferate before the ponderous legislative process aids in their eradication.
“Our members repeatedly have suggested our state’s noxious weed law should be updated and modified to offer more protection from the introduction of new noxious weed and/or invasive plant species,” Beam said. “The provisions of HB 2479 certainly provide a positive step in the right direction.”
The co-op and agribusiness groups said they generally prefer policymaking through the Legislature rather than the executive branch’s rules and regulations process. But in this case, they would prefer the technical expertise of the Agriculture Department and an advisory committee the bill would create.
Current Kansas law designates 12 weeds as noxious. The law provides no guidance nor legal requirement that legislators scrutinize factors like origin, reproductive methods or effect on native species when deciding whether to add a weed to the list.
Chad Bontrager, assistant secretary of agriculture, said HB 2479 would allow for a more scientific approach.
Rep. Tom Moxley, a Republican from Council Grove, said the bill greatly expanded the authority of the executive branch and asked Bontrager why it was necessary.
“Can you give me an example of where current law … has failed?” Moxley said.
Bontrager said five of the weeds on the list currently were added too late to be eradicated, and now the Agriculture Department only hopes to contain them.
Once a weed is declared noxious, landowners are required by law to control and limit it on their property. Government subsidies for herbicides are provided for that purpose. County weed directors are empowered to go onto any property and eradicate weeds at the owner’s expense if the owner does not comply with the law.
The Kansas Sierra Club, Kansas Rural Center and Kansas Farmers Union expressed concerns about the possible consequences of increased use of chemical herbicides – especially stronger varieties developed to deal with weeds that have evolved and developed resistance to earlier brands.
Paul Johnson of the rural center said the new chemicals can be especially devastating to crops like grapes, and there are limited legal protections in the bill for vineyards or organic farmers affected by chemical “drift” when counties eradicate weeds on public lands.
Several legislators expressed concerns about herbicides drifting from one property to the next and the possible legal ramifications.
Zack Pistora of the Sierra Club said the current weed management practices rely too heavily on chemical controls, resulting in pollution, increased energy costs, fewer bees and even human health consequences.
He said his group requested that representatives for organic farmers and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment be added to the advisory committee in HB 2479.
“We are curious as to why the Department of Agriculture did not incorporate this advice,” Pistora said.