Tighten controls on chemicals, say Walgett cotton growers

HARD HIT: Growers inspect some of the damaged crops, after the evidence began to show of a suspected inversion-type spray drift event in December. Photo: Cotton Australia
HARD HIT: Growers inspect some of the damaged crops, after the evidence began to show of a suspected inversion-type spray drift event in December. Photo: Cotton Australia

COTTON groups are calling for greater restrictions on the use of 2-4,D after December spray drift in the Walgett region that will cost growers tens of millions of dollars.

Up to 6000 hectares on 12 properties around Burren Junction, Rowena and Walgett are believed to have been affected, about 30 per cent severely. The type of damage means the culprit is unlikely to be identified. If growers wanted to pursue compensation, it would be practically impossible.

Cotton Australia northern NSW manager Paul Sloman said the best course of action was greater user education and seeking restrictions on the herbicide.

“This event’s happened, and I think it’s unproductive to start a witch hunt – we just want to prevent it from happening again,” he said.

“It’s the second time in three years it’s had a major impact in that region, and growers just can’t keep suffering those losses.”

Walgett Cotton Growers’ Association vice-chairman Bernie Bierhoff said an emergency meeting on January 4 had been “very calm”, with a focus on the future.

This included talk of more restrictions such as on nighttime spraying, especially in the cotton season. “This was all sent to Cotton Australia and hopefully they can talk to the right people and see if some things can be put in place.”

Mr Sloman said Cotton Australia would bring the recommendations to other grower groups, and regulators such as the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority and NSW Environment Protection Authority.

Mr Bierhoff said there was “no indication” where the off-target spray had come from.

“It’s definitely an inversion-type spray damage, so it hasn’t come from our immediate neighbours; it’s travelled in a cloud from God knows where,” he said.

“You can tell by how even the damage is over the fields, and we can look along all the fence lines and see there are still weeds there. So it’s not physical drift, it’s definitely an inversion-type drift.”

Mr Sloman said insurance didn’t cover such events.

“Unless you can find an offender and sort something out that way, there’s nothing that can be done, which makes this so frustrating.”

“[This] is why education and awareness campaigns have to be ramped up and possibly reviewed for effectiveness,” he said.