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Major Pesticide Drift Threatens Lodi-Area Vineyards

As many as 25,000 acres of vineyards in the Lodi area may have been affected by a major pesticide drift from the aerial application of a powerful weed killer cocktail applied across Bouldin island (about 10 miles west of Lodi) from May 15 to 28.

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Reported damage areas based on first-hand observations of multiple PCAs and vineyard managers.
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Damage has been reported as far east as Clements in an area that extends north about halfway between Lodi and Elk Grove and south to Stockton.

The drift contains chemicals that can damage the vine itself as well as this year’s crop.

Contamination Could Scuttle Crop

In addition, major growers say that grapes contaminated with unapproved chemicals would not be approved for making wine.

“The TTB would ban wines made with the affected grapes,” a major grower told Wine Industry Insight.

“You also have to remember,” the grower continued, “that Lodi exports a large amount of wine to dozens of countries around the world. We could not use those grapes for export.” said the grower who spoke on condition of anonymity.

That grower, and others, explained to Wine Industry Insight that they are particularly afraid to have their names used for fear that they would become “damaged goods” even in the event that this year’s crop could test negative for the chemicals by harvest.

The San Joaquin County Agricultural County Commissioners office said they are investigating the drift but would have no comment. Their investigation has been going on since at least late May when complaints about the drift began.

At least 200 growers have been affected.

Potent Herbicide Cocktail & Drift Acknowledged By AgriChemical Supplier

The Wilbur-Ellis Company, supplier of the chemicals used in the herbicide cocktail, sent a “Dear Customer” letter on June 10 that said, in part”

“On May 7, 2014, Wilbur-Ellis recommended an application of Roundup Custom, Polaris SP, In-Place, Cayuse and Hasten to non-crop areas in San Joaquin and Contra Costa Counties. The products were applied May 16-20 [hand-corrected to May 15-28] by a third-party applicator engaged by the owner of the target field. We understand that some of these chemicals may have drifted north and east of the target fields, onto crops for which they may not be labeled.”

Growers are pushing for Wilbur-Ellis to indemnify them for damages.

Herbicide Client Is Private Water Investment Company

The “owner of the target field” mentioned in the Wilbur-Ellis letter is Delta Wetlands Properties (DWP), an Illinois-based,  private water investment company. DWP owns all of Bouldin Island as well as three other major delta islands: Webb Tract, Holland Tract and Bacon Island. DWP has been trying for more than 25 years to develop those islands into a system of reservoirs and habitats to store water which it can then sell on the open market.

The massive herbicide application was intended to wipe out all vegetation on Bouldin Island so that it can be flooded.

For more on DWP, see: Delta Wetland Project resurrected.

Impatient Growers Conduct Own Investigation

Dissatisfied with the pace of the Ag Commissioner’s investigation, a number of growers have contracted with third-party laboratories and Pest Control Agents (PCAs) to independently determine the extent of the drift and damage.

Damage initially showed up as fairly typical herbicide damage: withered leaves, yellow blotching and shoot distortion.

However, as vineyard managers continued to observe the vines, they are finding that the vines are not producing vigorous and hardy growth as they should this time of the year. In addition, they are finding new shoots pushing out secondary leaves: something that is also abnormal for this time of the year.

Independent laboratory tests have confirmed  the presence of glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) and Imazapyr (the active ingredient in Polaris).

Wine Industry Insight has not been able to determine whether tests have been conducted to detect the active ingredients in the other three ingredients in the cocktail:  In-Place, Cayuse and Hasten. While those are surfactants, anti-drift agents and crop oil, it is not known whether any if the five components may have reacted with the others to form unknown compounds that may or may not be harmful.

Potent Polaris

The Environmental Protection Agency says that Imazapyr can be damaging at less than 2% of the recommended application rate and that it has been reported to cause a 10% decline in crops even if applied at 1/10 the recommended rate.

In addition, the manufacturer data sheet on Polaris states that it is persistent and has a half-life in the soil that, depending on conditions, ranges from two weeks to five months.

 Damage Could Be Prolonged.

The potential impact on vines could extend into 2015 said a prominent vineyard manager, because bud differentiation is taking place right now. The abnormal activity such as new shoots and secondary leaf growth could cause smaller crops next year.

Synergistic Effects Of 5 Herbicides Unknown

Chemicals such as Roundup and Polaris receive regulatory approval based on studies of each chemical by itself. While federal regulations may approve certain combinations, the approval process does not require any peer-reviewed testing of effects in combination with other chemicals.

Chemical compounds that come in contact often react with each other in unpredictable ways to form new compounds which may be harmless or potentially more harmful than any single component. Significantly, no one can predict precisely what new chemicals may be formed.

Five components were used in this application and drift accident. Possible synergistic effects and accidental new compounds are unknown.