Wednesday, 02 August 2017 07:27

Stop the Drift

Written by  Mark Orton

Central Otago winegrowers have a new weapon in their campaign to stop the drift of dangerous agri chemicals – a map initiative.

For past president of the Central Otago winegrower’s association James Dicey, the map designed to combat rogue spray incidents is well over-due. With vineyards now sitting cheek by jowl with other forms of agriculture, the cost to vineyard owners for stray noxious chemicals can be disastrous.

Without divulging any sensitive details, Dicey mentions that one vineyard alone suffered a million dollars worth of fruit damage last year, and that figure wasn’t calculated from the consequential loss of wine sales either.

“Just because you have had a spray incident it doesn’t mean that you can stop farming your vineyard. “The only costs you won’t have are harvest costs as there is nothing to harvest. Over the years there have been a number of chemical trespass incidents and we have worked diligently to educate the farmers where they occur,” says Dicey, “but after that one really significant episode last year, we felt the time was right to do more. We were already developing a vineyard locator map as a marketing tool, so we joined the dots together and figured we could use this map to inform farmers where we are.”

With some of the problematic spraying attributed to farmers trying to get rid of woody pests such as trees, goose and briar, it’s three groups of chemicals that have the most profound impact on grapes. Growth hormones, Sulfonylurea and Glyphosate are all mentioned on a leaflet that is distributed by New Zealand Winegrowers, but how does the fact that vineyards also spray and use glyphosate sit with Dicey?

“Yes, we do use glyphosate, so there is a sensitivity and a reverse sensitivity with it, but there are very strict protocols on when you can use it, and growers are very aware to only spray it in the right environmental conditions. Also, from a grape perspective, the vast majority of chemicals that we use aren’t going to cause any chemical trespass issues, but there is the perceptual issue so we can’t beat a drum too hard.

Obviously, spray drift isn’t an issue just affecting Central Otago vineyards, but with DOC and the Otago Regional Council (ORC) getting in on the act trying to remove invasive pines, Dicey really hopes that educating as many people as possible with the vineyard locator map will get people talking.

“It’s great that people are starting to communicate, it’s great that people are starting to talk and learn about what the risks are. This is much better than afternoon telephone calls when someone sees a helicopter spraying on a neighbouring property.”

Paid for by the Central Otago Winegrowers Association, the map has gone out to 500 land owners within a 30 kilometre radius of the most at risk vineyards and while there is a provision within the ORC ‘air plan’ to require resource consent for spraying, Dicey thinks they needn’t go there just yet.

We support the rights of farmers to farm, so our initial approach is from an education perspective so that they understand what the risks are, so they can spray at alternative times of the year or use alternative formulations of chemicals. We are also engaging in dialogue with other member organisations like Federated Farmers, DairyNZ, and they are aware that having a wind flow away from the vineyards is a good thing. We know that we are Johnny come lately in this environment and they have a right to farm…but then so do we and this is about mutual respect, trust and dialogue. This needs to happen both sides of the fence.”

 

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