Grape grower upset about drifting herbicide
Joel Myers, who owns or leases vineyard land throughout Yamhill County, estimates he has suffered close to $50,000 in losses in the last few years from phenoxy herbicides sprayed by neighboring landowners.
The problem is a particular class of herbicides used for killing broadleaf weeds. Above a certain temperature, they vaporize into a gas and drift, he said.
The most common is 2,4-D, which the Oregon Winegrowers Association describes as “one of the most widely used herbicides in the world” and “the third most commonly used herbicide in North America.”
But the association says it can drift for miles, then descend without warning after encountering a pocket of cool air. And it says, “Grapes are among the most sensitive to this chemical’s ability to disrupt growth,” to the point where even healthy, mature vines may succumb.
Jana McKarney, government affairs manager for the association, said it is trying to educate members about “how to communicate with neighbors about the susceptibility of winegrapes.” She said it is also participating in a stakeholders group assembled by the state Department of Agriculture.
The association has printed signs asking that herbicides not be sprayed within 350 feet of the property line. And it is making them available to members on request.
Washington and California have both enacted protective legislation. For now, the Oregon Department of Agriculture is limiting itself to seeking voluntary cooperation.
The department has posted the following warning on its web site:
“In Oregon, wine grapes are being planted into areas that traditionally have been field crops, Christmas trees, or pastures. Grapes particularly are sensitive to some of the herbicides used in these other crops. The introduction and expansion of commercial grape crops into these areas require that growers openly communicate with each other to ensure that all crops in an area can be produced without conflict.”
The department goes on to suggest ways to minimize drift, including “reducing spray pressure, lowering boom height, using drift-reduction nozzles or certain spray adjustments, or selecting low or nonvolatile pesticides.” The agency encourages neighboring farmers to communicate, saying, “It is all about common sense, good communication, being a good neighbor and having enough information to make informed decisions.”
But Myers said, “That’s something that’s not been successful for the last 20 years.”
He said, “There’s been data for 50 years that these compounds are a problem for sensitive crops. It’s not new information.
“The state of Washington has had rules for more than 40 years on their use. California has had rules for many years. Oregon has just refused to enact any rules.”
Doug Tunnell, owner of Brick House Wines in Newberg, agreed. “We lag behind both California and Washington in regulating the use of 2,4-D,” he said.
Tunnell told the News-Register he had suffered herbicide drift losses in past years, but had since “worked things out with the neighbor in question.”
Myers said he’s tried talking to neighboring farmers, and has gotten mixed results.
“Some people have been receptive to that, and I think in one case, they will change their practices,” he said. “So you have some people that are receptive.”
But he said he’d had no luck at all with others.
Myers favors a seasonal moratorium on herbicide use, extending from April to October.
“There are good farmers trying to do a good job with these products,” he said. “But the products themselves can’t be used safely around grapes. They are unpredictable and dangerous.”
Myers said other crops are also adversely affected. “There are many crops — nursery stock, organic crops, berry crops — that are sensitive to these chemicals and have been injured,” he said.