A NORTH west Victorian grape grower, whose 60-hectare property was permanently damaged by chemical overspray from a neighbouring property four years ago, has been awarded more than $7 million.
Riverman Orchards, which farms land at Piangil, claimed herbicide spray drift had adversely impacted on its 61.14-hectare vineyard.
The Supreme Court of Victoria was last week told block owner Tony Caccaviello, who had farmed in the Piangil area for his entire life, initially thought the vines had been affected by frost before tests confirmed the damage was the result of chemicals toxic to grapevines and which were not used within a vineyard.
The court heard vetch block owner Rodney James Hayden confirmed his property had been sprayed just days earlier with a mixture containing 2,4-D, glyphosate and metsulfuron-methyl and which included a wetting agent based on ammonium sulphate.
Riverman sought damages for the October, 2013, overspray event for nuisance and negligence.
It asserted that subjecting its vines to the overspray was an unreasonable and substantial interference with its use and enjoyment of the Mallee Block vineyard.
It also asserted the vetch spraying was negligently carried out, principally in the manner in which it was done in the prevailing weather conditions and in the mixture of chemicals chosen.
At the time of the overspray, local winemaker Andrew Peace Wines was purchasing all of the produce from 54.25 hectares of the Mallee Block at annual prices to be agreed each year before harvest.
Riverman claimed its vineyard did not yield the same quantity of fruit and the quality of the fruit produced was poor and that after three seasons it was clear that the vineyard would not recover.
The plaintiff claimed that 8000 vines needed to be removed and replanted to re-establish the vineyard to the standard that it was before October, 2013.
Hayden’s principal submission was that there was in fact no interference by him through spraying activities with the Riverman property, but if there was a spray drift event, the plaintiff’s damage was not caused by exposure to the herbicides used.
He claimed the damage to Mallee Block vines was caused by water stress arising from inadequate irrigation, excessive pruning and general inadequate management, including inappropriate fertilisation.
Hayden submitted that in any event the alleged interference was neither substantial nor unreasonable.
However, Judge John Dixon said he was satisfied that when the defendant sprayed the vetch, multiple spray drifts were created in sufficient concentrations to cause very serious damage to the vines.
Judge Dixon ordered Hayden to pay Riverman $6,543,626.10 in damages and a further $704,587.66 in interest.