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Drifting Pesticides Wreak Havoc on Nearby Vineyards

Posted: Sep 24, 2013 8:40 AM by Catie Laylin, KOMU 8 Reporter
Updated: Oct 23, 2013 9:52 PM

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ROCHEPORT- Now that fall has arrived, farmers are starting to harvest their crops. But some farmers are struggling to keep their crops due to harmful pesticides.

For Missouri wineries, the pesticide 2,4-D can be deadly toward their vineyards. Les Bourgeois Vineyards learned a few years ago how bad the effect of 2,4-D can be on crops.

"The worst damage we've had is probably 25 percent leaf loss," Cory Bomgaars, vice president at Les Bourgeois, said. "Now at that point we got the highway department in, the Department of Ag in to look at it. What we've done over the last ten years is really educate our local highway department not to spray within our area. And we also help them out where we will mow some of the highway right away so we are not just passing that cost onto the State Highway Department because of our crops. We work in conjunction with them to make sure it's cleared, and they're not using their spray."

Pesticides like 2,4-D are not just used on weeds, but also to manage crops like corn and soybeans. When farmers spray their crop, the pesticide can drift over to other farms. If the drift lands on another cropland, like a vineyard, it can delay ripening or even destroy everything. The leaves become shriveled and can ruin the wine's sugars hurting the taste of the wine. If the damage is slight (like on the leave), they can just be plucked off the vine. But if the herbicide gets in the vines, that is when major problems occur and the vines won't grow anymore.

Bomgaars recalls how a new vineyard last year lost their entire crop to herbicidal drift. That is what happened to the small Missouri winery, Windy Wine Company near Kansas City.

"Shortly before Memorial Day weekend, we noticed signs of herbicide damage on our crop, on our vineyard," Kraig Keesaman, owner of Windy Wine Company, said. "Within that week we lost our crop... they just shriveled up and lost their fruit."

It was a loss of both money and time. He'd waited four years for his vines to grow, but the drift ruined his plants. He plans on starting over with all new vines.

Keesaman is working with the Department of Agriculture to help him find the location of the drift. He said herbicidal drift prevention can be as simple as just choosing a time to spray when it's not windy or when the weather isn't susceptible to drift. There are also other alternatives that homeowners or farmers can use instead of herbicides.

"Some of the sprays they use are very powerful sprays. If they don't follow the rules and laws they are supposed to, then it hurts other people's business. And it's all fully preventable. There's different alternative methods than dousing your fields with chemicals. "

Keesaman and Bomgaars agree that drift isn't always caused by farmers. Bomgaars said there aren't any farms near Les Bourgeois even though they experience some small drift. He said drift probably comes from residential areas too. Keesaman warns residents who do use pesticides to be wary of how and when they use it, and think about how the chemicals can affect others' crops.

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