By Jim Kamas (April 2017)
A companion article in the linked newsletter outlines the steps growers should take to contact state regulatory agencies responsible for regulating pesticide applications. However, growers who have experience with injured vineyards commonly suggest a parallel course of action. Independent, private laboratories are established around the country that can test for residue in injured grapevine tissue as well as from weeds in and around the vineyard. Procedural recommendations from these laboratories are as follows:
- Find and contact a pesticide testing lab to do business with. A search engine query will come up with several established companies. Contact your local viticultural field agent or specialist for suggestions. When choosing a lab, ask about their detection levels in the plant(s) you will be submitting. Also be certain they are able to test for the exact herbicide that you believe your vines were exposed to. If you are uncertain and are not able to find out which chemical was used, choose a lab that will test for the greatest number of synthetic auxin herbicides. Additionally, choose the lab with the lowest detection levels. If financing permits, sending samples to multiple labs may help in building a stronger legal case.
- Take samples immediately. These herbicides begin to change and degrade within plants, so time is of the essence. With 2,4-D exposure, while vines may exhibit symptoms for several years, analysis of plant tissue a year or less from exposure commonly fails to confirm any presence of herbicides. Unless you know exactly which metabolite you are looking for, it may not show up.
- Document everything. Take several samples from various parts of the vineyard where contamination is suspected. Record and photograph the relative amounts of injury seen with each sample site. Continue to photograph any continuing symptoms on a regular basis as long as symptoms are present. A photographic timeline may be helpful.
- Use laboratory gloves to take samples, and change them between each sampling site to reduce the possibility of cross-contamination.
- Refrigerate samples after collection and overnight to the lab doing the analysis. Mailing with a cold pack may be beneficial. Contact the lab that you will be using for their specific recommendation.
- Fully document chain of custody with your analytical lab. Having a third party witness that can testify as to the date and location of the sampling is a good idea.
Samples commonly cost $100 or more each, but considering the potential long-term injury, failure to fully document the extent of exposure may leave you without the evidence you may need in settling a legal dispute.
The best prevention and management of herbicide injury is maintaining strong relationships and communication with your neighbors. Human error can occur, but a positive relationship and open lines of communication may not only prevent herbicide damage from occurring but may make legal recourse unnecessary.
Also keep in mind, commercial applicators in Texas must be insured, so odds are that if legal action is required, it may not be against your neighbor of even the applicator directly. The legal fight may well be with the land owner or applicators insurance company. It’s rare for an individual to be completely unsympathetic to damage they have caused to someone else’s property and in many cases land owners are not responsible for application mistakes, so maintaining a positive relationship with them is ultimately in everyone’s best interest.