The chemicals involved – 2,4-D, glyphosate and metsulfuron-methyl – are toxic to grapevines and never used in vineyards
EXCERPT: Mr Caccviello's lawyer, Howard Chait, told the ABC this was the largest payout for a ground-based spraying case he had ever seen. "This is I believe, the first time that a court, and a superior court like the Supreme Court of Victoria, has awarded damages to a claimant — it is a significant amount of money."
Chemical spray damage results in record $7m negligence court payout
By Clint Jasper
ABC, 11 Aug 2017
[links to sources are at the URL above]
A farmer has been awarded $7 million in damages for losses caused by a neighbour's negligent spraying.
For grape grower, Tony Caccaviello, it has been a four-year legal fight for compensation, after a mix of toxic chemicals destroyed his vineyard in northern Victoria.
In Spring 2013, Mr Caccaviello noticed his vineyard, near Swan Hill, looked different. The leaves were "translucent" and covered in yellow spots.
He initially he thought the vineyard had been hit by a bad frost.
The Supreme Court of Victoria later heard a cloud of agricultural chemicals, all deadly to grapevines, had blown across the vineyard from his neighbour, Rodney Hayden's property.
In Mr Caccaviello's case, the chemicals involved; 2,4-D, glyphosate and metsulfuron-methyl, are toxic to grapevines and never used in vineyards.
The chemical 2,4-D has been at the centre of a number of controversies, including in 2013 when it was revealed imported 2,4-D herbicides contained elevated levels of deadly dioxins.
Incidents of "spray drift", sometimes referred to as "off target damage", are nothing new for farmers, but they rarely end up before the courts.
There was no compensation in 2014 for a Victorian tomato grower who lost nearly $1 million worth of tomatoes to 2,4-D damage.
This summer, nearly half of southern NSW cotton crops were damaged from drifting herbicides, due to what is known as a "temperature inversion".
At the same time, one of Australia's biggest commercial beekeepers announced it would be leaving a key Australian food bowl, the NSW Riverina, over concerns about chemical use on nearby cotton crops.
In Mr Caccaviello's case, the Supreme Court was convinced the herbicides had come from Mr Caccaviello's neighbour, Rodney Hayden, whose nearby vetch crop had been sprayed on September 30, 2013.
The final damages claim of $6,543,626.10, plus $704,587.66 in interest included the cost of rehabilitating the land, Mr Caccaviello's loss of grape sales, the cost of re-establishing the vineyard and the future loss of grape sales while the vines regrow.
This week a final formal window for appealing the decision closed.
Mr Caccviello's lawyer, Howard Chait, told the ABC this was the largest payout for a ground-based spraying case he had ever seen.
"This is I believe, the first time that a court, and a superior court like the Supreme Court of Victoria, has awarded damages to a claimant — it is a significant amount of money."
Technology helping farmers get it right
Spray drift expert Bill Gordon has been urging farmers to improve their spraying behaviours for many years, and said change has been gradual.
Mallee Sustainable Farming chairman Ian Hastings said better technology was helping farmers reduce spray drift.
"We've now got nozzles which are air inducted and have far less likelihood of allowing drift," he said.
"But we've also recognised the dangers of the alternate crops growing in our region, and the area you have to remain away from with any 2,4-D product."
Just as this matter resolves, in the USA a crisis is intensifying over a cluster of spray drift events involving a new version of the herbicide dicamba.
In July farmers started posting social media shots of withered leaves and damaged crops.
It was later established hundreds of thousands of hectares of crops had been damaged by drifting clouds of dicamba.
Dicamba is not a new herbicide, but new versions developed by Monsanto and BASF, used on GM-resistance soybean crops were causing extensive damage to crops not bred to withstand them.
Authorities are now investigating how the herbicides were approved, without proper independent review from outside the companies, Reuters is reporting.