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Grass seed, wine grape growers discuss herbicide drift solutions

Mitch Lies/For the Capital Press Wine grape grower Bill Sweat, in a vineyard outside Amity, Ore., on Aug. 19, addresses participants during a farm tour that was arranged to help wine grape and grass seed growers co-exist.

Chemical dealers, licensed pesticide applicators, grass seed and wine grape growers address a gathering of legislators, state agency officials, county commissioners, extension agents and others about herbicide drift.

AMITY, Ore. — Grass seed farmer Denny Wilfong was enthused to learn that the Oregon Seed Council and the Oregon Winegrowers Association were organizing a tour to address issues of herbicide drift between grass seed fields and vineyards. So much so, in fact, that Wilfong volunteered to host the first stop on the Aug. 19 tour.

“What it boils down to, is the Willamette Valley is blessed with weather that allows us to produce the best grass seed, wine grapes and blueberries in the world,” Wilfong said. “We’re really fortunate. So we just have to figure out a way to make it all work together and make it all fit.”

On the tour, chemical dealers, licensed pesticide applicators, grass seed and wine grape growers addressed a gathering of legislators, state agency officials, county commissioners, extension agents and others.

Wilfong, of Wilfong Farms in Dallas, Ore., said he takes several steps to avoid damaging wine grapes when spraying broadleaf herbicides. Among them, he, at times, sprays at less than optimum timing to avoid applying compounds during bud break in grapes, uses nonvolatile formulations of herbicides and adds anti-drift agents to tankmixes.

Katie Fast, a neighbor of Wilfong, said she and her husband, Kirk, alert neighboring wine grape grower Dave Coelho when they are going to spray, and tell him what compounds they plan to apply.

“Working with our neighbors cooperatively is very important to us,” Fast said. “It is time that we are taking out of our day, and it takes effort, but I think it is important.”

Coehlo told participants he appreciates hearing from the Fasts, particularly during bud break.

Wine grapes are susceptible to herbicide injury at several points during a growing season, said Alex Cabrera of the OVS subsidiary Results Partners, but never more so than during bud break.

Injury at that point not only affects the current year’s grape crop, but also the next year’s crop and possibly subsequent years’ crops, he said.

“That early-season is very delicate,” Cabrera said.

Cabrera’s presentation at the second stop on the tour was followed by a presentation from Bill Hubbell, general manager of Wilco-Winfield. Hubbell showed growers examples of application technology available to reduce herbicide drift, including interlock nozzles.

“You still have wind issues to deal with,” Hubbell said, “but you can get a lot more control of your application.”

Bob Eccles of Wilbur-Ellis Co. told participants the optimal conditions for spraying are when wind is blowing away from sensitive areas at a speed of between 4 and 10 mph. At less than 4 mph, the chances of volatilization are increased, and drift issues come into play when applying pesticides at wind speeds in excess of 10 mph, he said.

Eccles also advised growers to read pesticide labels.

“There is a lot of new information on those labels,” he said, including information on how droplet size can affect spray quality, and other tidbits growers can use to their advantage.”

Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba, who participated in the tour, said she was pleased to see the wine grape and grass seed growers working to resolve what at times has been a contentious issue.

“I think that both sides are to be commended to be willing to talk to each other about their concerns and take the next step to do this tour,” she said.

“Our whole focus is co-existence,” she said. “The best people to solve these issues are the people that are out on the ground.

“There is so much diversity in Oregon agriculture: There is no way that from the top down that we can prescribe ways for neighbors and farmers to get along,” she said.

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