An Arkansas farmer on the State Plant Board helped found a group that is now suing him

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Travis H. Senter, a new member of the State Plant Board, helped start a nonprofit farmers’ group that is now suing the state, claiming the board’s membership is illegal.

Senter, 43, a farmer from Osceola, said Thursday he was unaware of the lawsuit filed by FarmVoice Inc. in August, about a month before Governor Asa Hutchinson was appointed to the Plant Board. Senter is listed as a director of FarmVoice on 2020 incorporation documents filed with the Secretary of State.

“I was removed as a director in September, I think, Senter said by phone, adding minutes later that he had resigned on his own, just before his selection by the governor, and that no one had asked him to do so. action.

Senter said he did not speak to the governor’s office about his relationship with FarmVoice and that the governor’s office did not raise the issue.

Hutchinson’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Matthew Marsh of Little Rock, chairman of the Plant Board and appointed by Hutchinson to represent rice farmers, said Thursday he was unaware of Senter’s role as the founder of FarmVoice. “It seems like it would be [a potential conflict of interest]. If he resigned [as a director]maybe by doing this he is trying to move away from FarmVoice and just represent the Plant Board, but that, at some point, could present a conflict, being a founding member.”

The next board meeting is scheduled for March 3.

FarmVoice and three farmers — Timothy Pirani and Adam Henard, both of Wilson, Mississippi County, and Jared Hopper of Blytheville — sued the Plant Board last summer, alleging that a 2021 law revamping the selection of Plant members Board is unconstitutional. Pulaski County Circuit Judge Morgan E. “Chip” Welch has scheduled a hearing for May 4 to consider the merits of the lawsuit (60CV-21-5113).

The new law stems from an Arkansas Supreme Court ruling in May 2021 that the Arkansas General Assembly had illegally delegated its nominating powers in 1917 when it passed legislation establishing the Plant Council. and allowing private agricultural business groups to appoint representatives directly to the board. (With changes to the original law over the decades, the Plant Board eventually grew to nine members representing business groups and seven direct governor appointments. Two more members, representing the Agriculture System Division from the University of Arkansas, are not eligible to vote. .)

The Supreme Court’s decision resulted in the removal of all nine business group representatives from the board.

Grant Ballard, a Little Rock attorney, filed the lawsuit that resulted in the Supreme Court decision as well as FarmVoice’s lawsuit challenging the 2021 law. Ballard’s current lawsuit does not name individual board members. factory administration as defendants. He declined to comment, saying he didn’t know the extent of Senter’s involvement with FarmVoice.

The 2021 law allows trade associations to submit the names of at least two members to the governor for review. The Governor would then select one member for each group to the Mill Council, with these selections subject to confirmation by the State Senate.

The latest lawsuit said the new law remains unconstitutional because business groups still have a say in appointments to the factory’s board.

Hutchinson announced 14 appointments to the plant’s board in September, including that of Senter. The new law also increased the number of council members to 19.

The trade groups represented on the Plant Board are those of seed growers and seed dealers, aerial applicators, pest controllers, pesticide manufacturers, foresters, horticulturists, oil distributors and industry green. Positions on the Plant Council for Oil Marketing and Seed Growers Associations remain vacant.

Senter is one of two people directly appointed by the governor to represent growers of corn, cotton, peanuts, rice, sorghum, soybeans, grass or wheat. The previous law described these positions as representing farmers in general.

When asked if he supported the FarmVoice lawsuit, he replied, “I’m not sure. I don’t even know what lawsuit you’re referring to.”

Senter said he was aware of the lawsuit that resulted in the Supreme Court decision, but not of the one filed by FarmVoice, noting that the latter was filed during a busy harvest. He said he did not recall, as director, having voted on whether to take legal action.

When asked why he resigned as director of FarmVoice, Senter said, “My appointment to the Plant Board is to serve farmers as a whole, and I felt it was in my interest to not serve two masters in particular, I suppose you would say.”

Senter later said he probably shouldn’t have used the term “two masters”.

“I guess you could say, wouldn’t say, ‘two masters,’ but as a member of the Plant Board, you have to be impartial towards things,” he said. “I want to make sure I serve the factory board to the best of my abilities.”

Because he was unaware of the FarmVoice lawsuit, he has no conflict of interest, Senter said.

FarmVoice was shaped, at least in part, by the rise in use of the herbicide dicamba, which has been linked to thousands of complaints of crop and vegetation damage in nearly two dozen growing states. soybeans, including some 1,600 complaints in Arkansas since 2016. Primarily through social media, FarmVoice has promoted a longer spray season for dicamba since at least 2019. Incorporation documents listing Senter as a trustee have were submitted in August 2020.

Senter disputed the idea that FarmVoice was created because of dicamba and pesticide regulations that are subject to the Plant Board.

“I think it’s irrelevant for dicamba,” Senter said. “I think farmers needed a voice on many issues, and I think FarmVoice was formed for that. I think it should be noted that there are people within the Plant Board who are members from the Farm Bureau and other groups as well, so I don’t think it’s an issue whether it’s a lawsuit for dicamba or anything else that could be done by any other group as well. (Other groups, including the Arkansas Farm Bureau, have not joined the FarmVoice lawsuit or filed their own lawsuits against the Plant Board.)

When asked if he was still a member of FarmVoice, Senter replied, “A member like donating to FarmVoice, yes, I guess you could consider me a member.”

“Travis Senter is as blunt as he gets,” said Perry Galloway, a Woodruff County farmer who helped found FarmVoice. Galloway said he sees no conflict of interest from Senter, noting that Senter represents farmers, not business groups. “If you want to talk about bias, the basis of the lawsuit is that private industry nominates two people for governor and the governor has to choose one. That’s the basis of the lawsuit.”

Senter, who farms 7,5oo acres of cotton, soybeans, rice and corn, is the third generation of his family to farm.

The entire acreage is in Mississippi County, the source of most dicamba complaints filed with the Plant Board since 2016. The board has some 600 pesticide complaints pending from 2017-21, including some alleged violations that are liable to fines of up to $25,000.

Senter said it sprays dicamba on its dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybeans and adheres to all restrictions on its use, including adhering to all buffer zones near agricultural research stations in the country. State. He said he operates about 300 acres adjacent to the UA Division of Agriculture’s Northeast Research and Extension Center in Keizer, Mississippi County. The research station has reported dicamba damage to its research plots about every year since dicamba use increased in 2016.

The use of dicamba as an overkill herbicide increased as weeds developed tolerance to other herbicides, including glyphosate or Roundup. Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, genetically modified soybeans and cotton to be tolerant to dicamba, which can damage other crops, fruit trees and native vegetation.

“It’s an extremely sensitive subject,” Senter said of the use of dicamba. “I see both sides. He has his good sides and his bad sides. I don’t want to damage [others’ crops] as much as anyone. From a farmer’s point of view, I hope the technology [for a new herbicide] arrives so that the dicamba is out. If we took it out today, I think it would be fine because I’m pretty clean because of other herbicides and because we pay cutting crews to remove the weeds.”

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