2016 June: Norton Estate (Vic). Spray drift on Vineyard

Norton Estate owners frustrated with spray drift damage

June 9, 2016, The Wimmera Mail Times

A WIMMERA winery owner has urged farmers and agronomists to take extreme caution with chemicals after a toxic herbicide drifted into his vineyard.

Norton Estate owner Chris Spence was working in his Lower Norton vineyard in May when he noticed a pungent chemical smell drifting from the south.

“Being aware of what different farm chemicals smell like, I was pretty confident it was an ester drift,” he said.

“Ester is a highly effective broad-leaf weed control, but orchards and vineyards are highly susceptible to ester vapour damage.

“It has the potential to drift up to 25 kilometres in the right conditions. It’s a product that’s been looked at and could probably be banned in two to three years because of its volatility.”

Mr Spence said a Department of Agriculture inspector would visit his vineyard today.

He said it would be three to four months before he knew the ramifications for his vineyard.

“There is a bit of leaf damage to the vines, but we won’t know what sort of damage has been done to this year’s fruit until spring,” he said.

“Fingers crossed the vines were starting to move into dormancy and weren’t hit as hard as they could have been if it was earlier in the season.

“It would be a disaster for us because it’s our oldest block of shiraz.

“If we have to replant, we then have to wait two decades to get any fruit from it.

“Then there’s also a massive cost involved to replant.”

Mr Spence said it was too late to change what happened to his vineyard, but his case was a valuable lesson.

“Not only do farmers need to be vigilant with regard to knowing what is around them and using the wrong chemcials on the wrong day, but agronomists need to be equally as cautious,” he said.

“All of our immediate neighbours are very conscious of what they spray.

“But given ester can drift for vast distances, it’s the ones that could be five, 10, or 25 kilometres away who could do the damage and not necessarily realise.

“What farmers out there would like to have a poorly applied herbicide used by one of their neighbours affect them for the next 20 years?”