It was a crystal clear morning in the first week of December; an unusual easterly breeze drifted across Loxton North vineyards. Several growers reported the unmistakable odour of 2,4-D ester in the breeze. The odour is associated with additives included in the formulation to alert users and others. The active ingredients of the herbicide are odourless. Alarm bells jangled. More growers confirmed the breeze was drifting the chemical far and wide, well off target. Resellers were notified but unable to do much. There is no remedy. Someone out there was being reckless and selfish. There’s no way it could have been negligence. For a decade at least industry and government have been pushing reminders and warnings and regulations around the acquisition and use of agricultural chemicals.
Group I herbicides including 2,4-D have been singled out for special treatment. The chemical was discovered during WW2 and has been available commercially since 1945. It kills most broadleaf weeds by causing uncontrolled growth in them while leaving most grasses and some crops unaffected. Grape vine leaves are broadleaf and young shoots are particularly susceptible. Everyone with a ChemCert Chemical Accreditation knows the risks and need to be super careful using this herbicide. Used correctly, it can be a cost effective way to control troublesome weeds especially since no-till farming methods have been adopted. Off target damage to vines and other plants is not intended but it is reckless and selfish.
The vines across Loxton North all had a good sniff on that December morning and several weeks later the evidence was there for all to see. The harm had been done. Young vines are particularly susceptible. In some cases the vines will grow out of it but it takes time and causes lots of unnecessary re-working and loss of crops. It is very difficult to put a value on the cost of damage at the enterprise level, much less at the regional level.
There is of course the option of seeking remedy through the legal system although the time, cost and stress of working through the court process is enough to intimidate most ordinary growers. They just want to get on with business… and with their neighbours. Growers are notoriously reluctant to report these incidents for fear of offending neighbours. No one wants to be labelled a ‘whistle-blower’. The selfish offender is rewarded for bad behaviour and likely to become a serial offender. Indeed, one of the wine growers most afflicted this year, asserts he’s suffered damage most years, for 20 years!
However, not all neighbours are prepared to keep ‘looking the other way’. The current issue of Grapegrower and Winemaker reports that a Victorian Grapegrower whose vines were severely damaged by a concoction of herbicides including the insidious 2,4-D did take action against his neighbour. He was awarded $7M to cover losses of past and future income including interest. SO it’s a very serious business.
In the past Riverland Wine worked with Grains Research Development Corporation as well as officers from Biosecurity SA to run awareness workshops and encourage full compliance with the Summer Weed Control Code of Practice. That’s obviously not good enough.
Email Riverland Wine if you’re intimidated as well as frustrated.