The use of chemicals in agriculture has rapidly increased since the 1940s. Various chemical formulations have been found to affect many aspects of agriculture. Some common uses of chemicals include:

• control of pests and diseases
• control of weeds
• improved growth of plants
• improved shelf life of produce.

Although many chemicals are being developed with highly specific actions, some chemicals used in agriculture have toxic effects on other (non-target) plants and animals. These side effects cause considerable concern, as the damage is often severe and long-lasting. Two types of chemicals which regularly cause concern are Insecticides and Herbicides.

The spraying of insecticides is a very emotional issue, as side effects on other insect populations and on human health are complex and not easily recognised. Some insecticides sprays cause leaf burn to plants but the incidence is low.

The spraying of herbicides is also an emotional issue, as some of these have undefined effects on human health and cause extensive damage to non-target crops.

If your crop is suffering from chemical damage there are many possible causes, some of which may give you grounds for compensation. The awarding of compensation is usually after an involved and costly legal battle. It is always better for damage to be avoided than to rely on the crossed fingers and complain later technique.

To avoid chemical damage, you must be aware of the effects on your plants of all chemicals likely to be used in your area; be aware of spray drift from various spray applicators and know what toxic effect the chemicals you use have on your plants and the surrounding community. If there appears to be a problem, you must discuss it rationally with others concerned and review all possible alternatives. Often this requires some give and take on both sides.

Malicious damage to crops is a Police matter. Accidental damage to crops may be compensated if a commercial operator is found to be at fault. The Department of Primary Industries can assist orchardists who suspect damage to their plants has been caused by agricultural chemicals. The assistance is in the form of a free investigation service.

In relation to damage caused by herbicides, Departmental action and assistance is by virtue of the "Agricultural Chemicals Distribution Control Act" (A.C.D.C. Act).

A statement resulting from investigations under this Act may be used to support growers' claim for compensation.

1. Contact your local D. P. I. office as soon as possible. A specialist officer will need to inspect the damage. This is only an initial inspection. If the officer considers there are grounds for a more detailed investigation a "Notification of Complaint" (known as a form 10) will be supplied to the grower.

2. Lodge Form 10. This form must be correctly completed and lodged with the Standards Branch of the D.P.I. within 14 days. Failure to do this may jeopardise chances of obtaining compensation. Standards branch investigations cost the community many hundreds of dollars; only cases of major damage may warrant such an investigation.

3. Advise the persons suspected of being responsible. You must advise any persons believed to be responsible of your intent to claim against them. This will give that person a chance to inspect the damage or inform their insurance company.

4. Harvesting or destruction of crop. The Standards Branch must be notified at least 14 days prior to the destruction or harvest of a crop for which an investigation is being conducted.

5. Other Action. Unless the crop is a total 'write-off', continue to manage the crop normally. All possible assistance should be given investigation officers, particularly in supplying factual information on crop history, chemical treatment and spraying techniques.

Crop damage to non-commercial plants damage caused by a non-commercial applicator may not be covered by a Departmental Investigation. In these cases samples may be sent to private analysis for determining the level of agricultural chemicals present.

Departmental Officers may offer opinions on the causes of damage to plants. Sometimes the damage may be caused by factors other than chemical sprays. Advice on how to prevent further damage and correct damage done is available.

Farm notes relating to chemical damage to crops and responsibilities of land owners are available free of charge to interested persons. Some are:

• SPRAY DAMAGE - Assistance for land owners.
• SPRAYING HERBICIDES Landowners' obligations.
• SPRAYING HERBICIDES Commercial operators' obligations.

Problems associated with human health arising from contamination of the environment by agricultural chemicals are dealt with under provisions of the HEALTH ACT 1937 - 1982.

Briefly, Regulation 010.01 of the Poisons Regulations of 1973 under the Health Act 1937 - 1982 states that a person shall not discharge (which includes spray or spray drift) a poison onto public land, road or water course or onto any persons' land without the consent of the owner of the land.

Roger Goebel

DATE: January 1987

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