1978 October; Glenfield (WA). Tomato crop damage due to 2,4-D Ester Spray Drift.

Legislative Assembly (Western Australia)
Tuesday, the 17th October, 1978


MR CARR (Geraldton) [8.31 p.m.]: I would like to take this opportunity during the general
Budget debate to deal with three matters of concern to my electorate. The first concerns
damage done to tomato crops by the herbicide 2,4-D ester. This is a matter of very great concern to tomato growers in the Geraldton area; particularly this year, although it has been a problem for many years.

Members will be familiar with the publicity given recently to damage to tomato gardens. Last
night’s issue of the Daily News carried the suggestion that the Government may be on the
verge of announcing an inquiry into the problem. I do not know whether that is true or not; I hope it is, but I would prefer to see the Government take far stronger action than that….

Various estimates have been made of the damage that has occurred to tomato crops this
year. Some people have suggested that 95 to 100 per cent of the crops have been affected. The

Geraldton Guardian of the 12th October gives three estimates of the damage. I quote as

A group of 10 tomato growers has written to the Guardian saying the damage to their
crops varies from 75 to 95 percent loss. And president of Geraldton-Greenough
Market Gardeners’ Association, Mr John Moor estimated a loss of between 50 and 60

Geraldton Tomato Growers’ Association president Mr John Dines, has given the most
conservative estimate 60 percent for all the crops in the Geraldton region. There may be some dispute as to the extent of the damage, but I suggest it is something like half or more of the crops in the Geraldton area….

Mr CARR: There is much for members to be interested in. I am pleased the Minister for
Agriculture is in the Chamber as the matter does concern him. I would like to compare the 2,4-D ester with the 2,4-D amine. There is a much more serious problem associated with the 2,4-D ester. The reason is that the ester drifts over tremendous distances and vaporises very easily. It can drift over distances of 40 miles. Farmers who are familiar with the smell of 2,4-D have reported smelling the spray on the Abroihos Islands. This illustrates the extent to which this spray can drift and cause trouble,..

The spray can hang in the air for periods of several days. Another problem is that after the
spray has settled on a crop, it can vaporise on a hot day and once it is in the air again it can be moved about by the wind. A farmer therefore can spray in apparent safety and the spray can settle on the crop but with the advent of hot weather the problem is reactivated when the spray vaporises…

Following previous problems a 19-kilometre restricted zone has been introduced around
Geraldton, from Mt. Scott, in which it is illegal to use 2,4-D ester. This zone is useless in fact when one considers the spray can drift over distances of 40 miles. Part of the zone boundary comes within six miles of Geraldton. The restricted zone covers a 19 kilometre radius from Geraldton, from the coast near the Duller River to the Midland railway line. Where it meets that line it takes off in a direction towards the mouth of the Greenough River. Anyone knowing anything of Geraldton will realise the area is subject to strong southerly winds which make this restricted zone quite ineffective.

Another danger is that this spray is so volatile. If the spray has been carried in a vehicle and that vehicle is brought into the town, the spray can be released in that town. In transferring the spray into a plane or boom spray unit, some of the spray can spill in the back of the vehicle used. When the vehicle is driven back to the town the spray can vaporise very easily and so cause problems.

It appears that rail trucks bring the spray into the Geraldton station. Whenever possible the rail trucks are inspected at the Walkaway Siding outside the 19-kilometre limit to ensure the
containers are not broken. I understand there was a case this year where a container of 2,4-D ester was found open when it arrived in Geraldton. The truck also included tomato dust and so one can guess the damage done to that….

It is written by Mr A. Haagensen, a Department of Agriculture adviser. It reads as follows-
I inspected tomato crops between Glenfield and Narngulu. Every crop I looked at showed
leaf damage typical of damage caused by hormone herbicides such as 2.4.D.
* Damage was seen as early as the I18th of August on ***’s Property and
damage has been seen on recent transplants at ***’s property. Because of the extensive area affected and the long period over which damage has developed it is my opinion that the hormone has come from outside the restricted spraying area.

That officer also wrote to a Mr *** as follows- I inspected your tomatoes at Utakarra on
September 34, 1978, the leaves and fruits I inspected showed damage typical of damage
caused by hormone herbicides such as 2.4.D. The loss will be considerable as flowers
have aborted and young fruits are distorted. It is possible that more than three quarters of
the production will be lost….