2018 December: Spray Drift Costs Lucerne Grower $1.3m (Victoria)

Spray drift costs lucerne grower $1.3 million in damages

A LUCERNE grower has been ordered to pay more than $1.3 million in damages for herbicide spray drift that damaged a neighbouring spring onion crop.

Supreme Court Justice Melinda Richards ruled last week GG & PM Burrell — a family-owned company at Beverford, north of Swan Hill — was liable for drift from herbicide spraying of a lucerne crop in July 2014.

The spray drift damaged 12.14ha of commercial spring onions grown by Butler Market Gardens, another family-owned vegetable business.

Justice Richards found drift from the spraying of Burrell’s lucerne crop on July 28, 2014, damaged BMG’s spring onions crop.

Gavan Wilson, an independent contractor, was hired by Craig Burrell to spray and harvest the lucerne crop.

It is alleged Mr Burrell asked Mr Wilson to do the winter clean-up of a lucerne crop on the Burrell farm, ­including the lucerne crop to the north and northwest of the Swan Hill block.

Mr Burrell allegedly did not give Mr Wilson specific instructions beyond asking him to get it done and to be mindful of the spring onions.

“Before that day, the spring onions were in ‘fantastic’ condition and were ready to harvest exactly on target,” Justice Richards said.

“There was no sign of damage before the spraying and the first of the spring onions were in fact harvested on July 28, 2014.

“After Gavan Wilson spray­ed the lucerne to the north and west of the spring onions with herbicide, in weather conditions that were conducive to spray drift, many people ­observed the damage to the spring onions.

“The nature and pattern of the damage was consistent with herbicide spray drift.”

Justice Richards found neither Mr Burrell or Mr Wilson held an agricultural chemical user permit or a commercial operator licence.

BMG subsequently spent about $665,000 buying spring onions from a Queensland grower and transporting them to Victoria following the damage to their crop from the spray drift, in an effort to meet a supply commitment for ­supermarkets.

Justice Richards ordered Burrell to pay BMG $1,346,570 in damages for the lost crop.

Victorian Farmers Federation grains president Ross Johns said all farmers should take care when spraying crops or risk being held liable for damage.

“It’s our responsibility not to damage neighbouring property or anyone else’s property,” Mr Johns said.

“Farmers almost every year spray during the summer period — this year is very similar, in some areas there’s been higher rainfall and stronger weed growth.

“Weather conditions play a huge role in sprayer performance (and) the operator needs to be very aware of weather conditions.

“It’s just important to adhere to these guidelines.”

The Weekly Times had contacted the Butler family for comment.