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Beware the unintended cut from the regulatory sword

We sympathize with Oregon vineyard operators who say their crops are being harmed by herbicide drift. We prefer cooperation among neighbors over regulation.

Our View

Vineyard operators in Oregon’s Yamhill County say herbicide drift from neighboring operations is damaging their vines.

They say phenoxy compounds such as 2,4-D used by grass seed and Christmas tree growers to kill broad-leaf weeds are to blame.

Joel Meyers estimates herbicide drift has caused $50,000 damage in the past three years to vineyards he owns, leases or manages in Oregon’s Yamhill County. He says it’s also a problem for producers who grow blueberries, nursery stock and organic crops.

Meyers and other grape growers believe 2,4-D use should be banned from April through October, the growing season. They note the herbicides are heavily restricted in Washington and California.

“We feel like we’ve now got a significant wine growing industry and we’re asking for similar protection,” said Doug Tunnell, owner of Brick House Vineyards.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture has convened a spray drift committee to discuss the problem.

The growers admit that their complaint puts them in a ticklish situation. Their neighbors’ practices are generally protected by Oregon’s right to farm law, but those practices are leading to damage to grapes and other specialty crops also protected by law.

And an analysis of ODA records commissioned by the Oregon Winegrowers Association revealed 30 percent of the 10 to 20 drift complaints it receives each year are lodged against vineyard operators.

We prefer disputes between farmers be handled between neighbors. That said, we realize there are instances where third party action is required. This may be one of those occasions. We ask any resulting regulation be crafted as narrowly as possible.

Regulatory swords rarely come with only one edge. Once wielded, they often cut in ways unintended.

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