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Co-op manager feels vindicated with chemist’s report on 2,4-D

Patrick Brawner, the branch manager for Jackson-Jennings Co-op south of Corydon, says an investigation by the Indiana State Chemist’s office has taken his co-op off the hook regarding an 2,4-D herbicide spray problem at a vineyard west of Lanesville.
Jim Pfeiffer, owner of Turtle Run Winery, isn’t in total agreement with the findings but hopes the public’s awareness of the hazards of herbicide spraying has been raised by the incident.
This newspaper reported last August that Pfeiffer’s Turtle Run Winery on St. Peter’s Church Road had a visible pesticide spray problem. It appeared to Pfeiffer that 2,4-D had sporadically damaged plants on isolated parts of his vineyard, and he never uses it.
Brawner said he and his assistants have been questioned by many people and taken about 40 phone calls ever since the problem developed last summer because Jackson-Jennings does almost all the herbicide and pesticide spraying for farmers in Harrison County, and 2,4-D is the herbicide of choice. By inference, Brawner said, it looked like Jackson-Jennings was the guilty party, and they have stewed about this until two weeks ago.
Brawner said the day after he got the state chemist’s report, on Jan. 18, that ‘It doesn’t look like anything we did was wrong.’ He said that after Pfeiffer discovered the damage last June, he requested the state chemist to investigate his theory that wind-borne 2,4-D from adjacent fields had harmed a number of his vines, although he didn’t discuss the problem with Brawner.
The investigation was handled by Andrew R. Roth of the state chemist’s office at Purdue University in West Lafayette. Brawner said the investigator inspected the vineyard and nearby fields and crops, interviewed everyone involved, including Pfeiffer, the co-op managers, their licensed applicators and all their spraying records, and all farmers in the area. He checked meteorological records for temperature and wind conditions then.
Brawner also checked the co-op’s records. Jackson-Jennings applicators use a wide variety of herbicides and pesticides and several spraying techniques to help their customers protect their crops. They know to leave a buffer zone around vineyards.
‘Every acre we apply probably gets 2,4-D,’ Brawner said. ‘It’s cheap, it does an extremely good job against weeds. There are not many weeds that are resistant to that chemical. It’s a growth regulator.’
Out of 25,000 acres of beans in Harrison County and 25,000 acres of corn, Brawner estimates that 80 percent of it is sprayed with 2,4-D.
Brawner has three employees who are licensed to spray 2,4-D. ‘We are tightly regulated and we have all had training,’ he said. Their licenses come from the Indiana State Chemist’s office.
‘There are no health hazards to humans,’ he said. And Pfeiffer said any 2,4-D residue on grapes would not harm humans who drink his wine.
Roth’s report concludes: ‘Although possible phenoxy-type herbicide exposure symptoms were observed on grape leaves on Mr. Pfeiffer’s property, the lack of symptoms produced by other herbicides in the tank mixes, the timing of the onset of symptoms and the lack of a pattern of symptoms suggests direct particle drift was not the cause. No violation of the Indiana Pesticide Use and Application Law could be documented.’
Pfeiffer said he can live with the report, which was prepared by experts. He doesn’t know where the wind-borne mist came from or what kind of damage it might have on his next crop or the one after it, but he doesn’t think it will be catastrophic, althought it ‘could be’ significant. He will know more this weekend or next when he starts pruning his 11 acres of vines.
Pfeiffer said he believes it’s possible that a herbicide spray could have come from quite a distance, perhaps even miles, and settled on various spots in his vineyard, which he and his wife, Laura, started planting in 1998, ironically, with the help of Jackson-Jennings Co-op.
Pfeiffer noted that last spring was the windiest he could remember. He said ‘on some days when the wind is right, I can smell the pollution from Rubbertown’ in Louisville, and that’s many miles away.
Brawner said Virgil and Tim Leffler farm neighboring fields, but they don’t use 2,4-D because of the proximity of the vineyard. ‘When we spray in that area,’ Brawner said, ‘we take containment precautions, we use drift controls, and we don’t spray when it’s hot and humid. We are real sensitive greenhouses and vineyards.’
‘It did not come from our spray,’ Brawner said.
‘Somebody a couple of miles away can spray and it can get me. It can drift,’ Pfeiffer said Monday. ‘A day or so after it’s applied, it can lift back up if the humidity and temperature are right,’ he said.
‘This may help people be more careful with spraying with the herbicide. It may get people to stop spraying it, especially on windy days.’
It only takes two parts of 2,4-D per billion to damage a crop.
Pfeiffer said he doesn’t think he’ll be losing any vines. ‘It could have been a lot worse. We’ll just have to wait and see.’
Harrison County Highway Engineer Darin Duncan said county highway crews have not sprayed 2,4-D in that area. Duncan said that 2,4-D derivatives can be bought off the shelf.