2018 February: Riverland (South Australia) – Spray Drift. Pesticide: 2,4-D

Spray drift towards SA vineyards prompts calls for crackdown on crop spraying ‘recklessness’

Feb 28 2018

A regional South Australian wine body is calling for officials to crack down on weed spraying “recklessness”, or banning products, amid a spike in reports of chemical damage due to spray drift.

Biosecurity SA has confirmed a number of cases of spray drift in two of the state’s most prominent wine regions, with five reported cases in the Riverland between mid-January to mid-February, and eight in the Clare Valley.

Spray drift can see chemical particles travel away from its intended target site in certain weather, with some conditions, such as inversions, pushing spray drift up to 70 kilometres.

Such herbicide drift has recently caused headaches for farmers across the country, including damage to cotton crops worth tens of millions of dollars in New South Wales last Christmas.

Executive chairman of Riverland Wine, Chris Byrne, said it was frustrating to see the actions of few impacting upon so many.

“What has been occurring this year seems to have been the result of some carelessness or maybe even just some recklessness,” Mr Byrne said.

“I guess our view here at Riverland Wine is that probably 95 per cent of all users or more are being very careful, diligent or using an alternative product.

“But there are some who do not seem to understand that what they are doing … is causing harm and damage.”

A Riverland wine grape grower, who requested to remain anonymous, told the ABC their patch of young vines was subject to chemical damage from off-target spray drift last year.

“We just noticed all of a sudden that the vines just stopped growing and all the leaves were deformed,” they said.

“We got a few people out to look at it, and they said it was 2,4-D.”

They said with the significant risks posed to wine grape crops, the chemical in question needed to be taken off shelves.

“You go get hail or frost or anything like that and it’s mother nature, that’s part of being on the land,” they said.

“When it is actually caused by someone else and could have been avoided, it gets really annoying.

“If the farmers or whoever is doing it does the right thing then it should not be an issue, but I do not know if there is any way of policing that or stopping that.

A call for more to be done

South Australia’s primary industries body said offences carried a maximum penalty of $35,000, with Biosecurity SA successfully prosecuting an SA farmer of three offences last year.

Riverland Wine’s Chris Byrne said he had written to the state minister in a call for more direct action, with suggestions including a greater focus on auditing spray diaries.

However, he said if no improvements were seen, restricting access to certain sprays and herbicides, like 2,4-D, may be the final avenue left.

“It’s time for a little bit more policing of the situation and, if that does not work, it is probably time to say ‘Look, these products need to be withdrawn from sale or use for certain times of the year,” Mr Byrne said.

“That is a fairly harsh move … we are hopeful we can avoid it because of the fact there are lots of good producers who are compliant.”

In a statement made to the ABC, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) said it was “aware of incidents involving drift of 2,4-D and will continue to consider information regarding industry uses and the continued safety and effectiveness of 2,4-D, with state authorities and industry, as part of the chemical review process”.

Biosecurity SA has been contacted by the ABC for a response.

Education, not chemical bans, the key

Grain growers in South Australia have voiced similar frustration at the small percentage of farmers not abiding by regulations, but said restrictions or bans on sprays was not the answer.

Chairman of Grain Producers SA, Wade Dabinett, said continual education was a vital cog in the process.

“I think there has been plenty of research done out there, so it’s just matter of educating and extending that to our existing members,” Mr Dabinett said.

“This is something the industry has to self-regulate; I would not want to see chemicals banned or further regulation.

Mr Dabinett also welcomed government funding to improve real-time weather data for combatting spray drift, with a pilot network of 40 weather stations across South Australia set to kick-off.

“While we need to have a focus on education, providing our members with far greater information in terms of weather and an alerts system is going to allow us to make better decisions,” he said.

“I think it is a fantastic initiative, and hopefully we will see it rolled out across the state.”