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Herbicide drift wreaks havoc on local grape crop

 Driving through Hockley County, it’s impossible to miss the countless farms and agricultural plots across the area. Most of these are home to cotton, corn, wheat and grain-sorghum, but also, to grapes.

   “If we had half this county planted in grapes, we could outgrow California,” said Chase Lane, local grape grower. “There’s a lot of benefits for the economy.”

   Lane has been producing wine commercially for the past four years. For that wine, he used grapes from his own vineyard and KRICK vineyards, owned by Chace Hill. Lane released his first wine in 2014 in 30 cases.

   “It was a soft release and we sold out, mostly to friends and family,” Lane said.

   However, this industry is under constant threat from chemical herbicide.

   “Sometime between June 14 and July 4 we received significant damage,” Lane said. “It touched every plant.”

   Lane said that a herbicide drift is the culprit to his plants’ demise.

   “It’s on the east side of the vineyard and its directional,” Lane said.

   He said he submitted a complaint to the Texas Department of Agriculture, but due to the lofty number of complaints in the high plains area and the few inspectors in the department, he doesn’t know if there will be anything done for him and his crop.

   “We’re left holding the bag,” Lane said.

   Steven Boston, with the Lubbock regional office for the Texas Department of Agriculture, said they handle every complaint differently, depending on the complexity of the complaint.

   “We deal with everything in the pesticide realm,” Boston said. “The complexities start coming up when you have a multiple application sites or a single application site. You can’t say this one is going to take so many days and this one so many days, it’s based on how many variables, how many complaints and the time of year.

   “If we go through a period where we aren’t receiving a lot of complaints, we’re able to get caught up, but it’s growing season so naturally we’re going to take a lot of complaints until fall or frost.”

   Because of how busy TDA is right now, Lane is asking for help from the community in determining who is spraying and stopping them.
   “If it means starting a ‘drift watch,’ that’s what I’ll do,” Lane said. “We’re going to have to implement more surveillance or drive grids to determine who’s spraying and who isn’t, that’s what we’ll do.”

   He said this setback could cost him a year or two in recuperating from the damage and it could potentially be fatal to his crop.
   “We have communicated to all of our neighbors that we’re out there,” Lane said. “It’s probably somebody who has no idea we’re out there or the damage they’re causing us.”

   Herbicide drift occurs when a crop is sprayed in certain conditions, like wind, or when the crop is sprayed with chemicals that are volatile.

   “We’re fairly confident we know the chemical,” Lane said. “This chemical can pick up and move in the right conditions.”

   Volatile chemicals, or off-label chemicals, are chemicals that are sprayed on target, but when the humidity increases, that chemical can rise into the air and once it falls, it kills whatever it hits.

   Lane said he isn’t sure whether the chemicals have completely killed his crop or if he will be able to save them before harvest.

   “It depends on the concentration,” Lane said. “It causes chute deformation and to stop growing completely. We’re watching areas but it’s iffy whether they’re going to make it or not.”

   Because of this, Lane has suffered major setbacks in his season.

   “At this point we should be setting up trellis’ but we’re not going to pour more money into something we’re not sure is going to turn out,” Lane said.

   Lane owns several acres, but the effected vineyard is his most recent purchase. It is located in Levelland, at the intersection of Barton Lane and Alaska Road.

   He doesn’t think the culprit(s) have malicious intents behind their actions but are simply unaware of how they are affecting his crop.

   “Grapes are just way more susceptible to herbicide,” Lane said. “Weeds are even more resistant. It could be devastating because if you terminate early to save your plant, you’ve lost your entire crop.”

   He said the crops that were effected by the herbicide will take at least a year, maybe two, to recover and become a crop capable of producing fruit.

   “The most we can do is hope we can save it by watering it and fertilizing it as much as possible,” Lane said.

   Lane hopes to create an environment for farmers to be able to work together over these issues and understand they’re all working towards one common goal: producing a crop to bring money into the county.

   “There is a way to work together,” Lane said. “Instead of waiting until June to spray weeds, maybe it could be mandated to have it done by a certain date. Then we’re all happy.”

   All grape growers are can be affected by herbicide drift, however it can be more detrimental to farmers like Lane who have fewer than 10 acres of land.

   Lane wants to invite anyone interested in having a civil discussion about the issue to e-mail him at lanevineyards@yahoo.com.

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