2017 December: Spray Drift Damages 6000 hectares of NSW cotton on Christmas Day. Pesticide: 2,4-D

Spray drift damages 6,000 hectares of NSW cotton on Christmas Day

NSW Country Hour

Cotton crops worth tens of millions of dollars in north-west New South Wales have been damaged by spray drift.

Growers have called an emergency meeting to discuss the impact and how to deal with it.

Vice chair of the Walgett Cotton Growers’ Association, Bernie Bierhoff, said about 6,000 hectares on more than a dozen farms are showing signs of damage from an incident on Christmas Day.

The affected area covers about 100 square kilometres around Burren Junction, Rowena and Walgett.

Mr Bierhoff said he was also getting reports of damage in other cotton regions further east and closer to Moree, such as Wee Waa and Bellata.

Spray drift is caused by chemicals being applied in windy conditions and in this case it is thought they may have drifted as far as 70 kilometres away.

Drift from the Phenoxy herbicide (using the active ingredient 2,4-D) has been an ongoing concern for cotton growers dating back to the 1970s.

The rising cost of alternative weed controls such as glyphosate has meant more farmers used phenoxy herbicides, which can devastate a cotton crop even in tiny amounts.

Adam Kay from Cotton Australia is frustrated by this latest incident.

“It is disappointing that a couple of broadacre farmers have not followed the proper advice or attention to detail when spraying out weeds and it has devastated quite a number of cotton crops,” he said.

Bernie Bierhoff said the situation was made more difficult because cotton farmers in the region have been dealing with dry conditions and some will have locked in contracts to deliver at the end of the season.

“Spray drift damage is a terrible blow for the affected cotton growers, who are already struggling with limited access to water for irrigation this season,” Mr Bierhoff said.

“Although the drift has caused varying degrees of severity, some growers believe they are facing complete crop loss, which would simply be devastating for them.”

Insurance is not common for cotton growers, but some may be able to plough in the damaged cotton and plant something else while others may find their crops recover from the damage.

Mr Kay said the industry had spent a lot of money to educate other farmers about being careful when spraying to kill weeds in fallow fields.

He said he was disappointed that some people were not listening.

“We’ve spent a lot of money over the years with advertising, newspaper articles and running workshops on spray application but we still see incidents like this with the phenoxy herbicide.”