By Justin Scheiner (April 2017)
Damage from herbicide drift is not something that any grape grower wants to think about, but it’s a good idea to have a plan in case it happens to your vineyard. As discussed in Jim Kamas’ article Understanding and Recognizing Synthetic Auxin Damage in Grapes, plants immediately begin to metabolize herbicides upon absorption, and herbicides begin to degrade so action should be taken without delay to preserve evidence. Likewise, if you intend to file a formal complaint with the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA), it should be initiated soon after the damage is noticed while the evidence is most apparent.
The TDA employs just over twenty agriculture inspectors that are tasked with investigating complaints of herbicide drift or misuse. These are also the folks that inspect your spray records if you get audited. If you file a formal drift complaint, one of these inspectors will be assigned to investigate your case. The investigation will include a series of interviews, beginning with you, to determine if a violation occurred and who the perpetrator is.
Upon arriving at your property, the inspector will begin with checking your spray records to rule out the most obvious culprit, you. That means your pesticide program had better be in compliance and your spray records better be up to date. There have been cases where growers that filed complaints ended up paying a fine for noncompliance. This is a good time to remind growers that it is a violation to use product brands not specifically labeled for use in grapes, even if the same formulation of the chemical is labeled for grapes under another brand name. Products not labeled for use on any crops on your farm have no place in your pesticide shed.
The inspector may photograph the damaged area of your vineyard and surrounding area. He or she may also collect samples for herbicide residue analysis. This decision is made by the inspector, and is not required during an investigation. The inspection may then proceed to neighboring properties. TDA does not esti- mate monetary loses that may have occurred, nor will they indicate suspected guilt until the investigation is finalized.
After the investigation is complete, a final report is written and will be available to you upon written request based on the Texas Public Information Act. You will receive a call from the inspector with the findings of his or her investigation and if a violation is documented, TDA may take one of the following actions: issue a warning; assess an administrative penalty; suspend, modify or revoke a license; or refer the case to another appropriate state or federal agency, county attorney, district attorney or Texas attorney general for further action. In addition to TDA’s investigation and actions, you may conduct a separate, independent investigation, and regardless of the TDA’s findings, you may pursue civil action. In order to recover losses a civil action is required as TDA does NOT recover losses for injured land owners. We always recommend that a written request via the TPIA of the report be requested in order to eliminate any communication errors between you the grower and TDA when discussing the report. It is also possible the report may contain information not discussed in conversation that will either assist in your case, or aid in preventing problems in the future.
How to File a Complaint
To file a complaint with TDA, you can either call your local TDA office or the state office in Austin (1-800- TELL-TDA). Keep in mind that once a complaint is filed, it cannot be withdrawn without an investigation. Confidential complaints may be filed, but TDA does not guarantee that confidentiality can be maintained through process. After initiating a complaint, the TDA inspector assigned to your case will contact you by phone or mail to initiate a report.
According to TDA, the inspector’s report will contain:
- the name of the person allegedly responsible for the application of the pesticide, if known;
- the name of the owner or lessee of the land or structure on which the application was made, if known;
- the name of the owner or lessee of the land or structure to which adverse effects are alleged to have occurred, if known;
- the facts of the allegations set forth in detail signed by the complaining
If you have the unfortunate circumstance of herbicide drift and you decide that is worthwhile to file a formal complaint with TDA and/or conduct an independent investigation, don’t wait until it’s too late to collect evidence. Know what the symptoms and signs of herbicide injury look like and be prepared to act. If you have questions regarding herbicide injury contact your viticulture specialist for assistance.
For more information about filing a complaint with TDA visit: