The Supreme Court of Victoria has awarded more than $7m in damages to Riverman Orchards after ruling that there vines had been damaged by chemical overspray from a neighbouring property.
Riverman owner Tony Caccaviello claimed that herbicide sprayed by neighbour Rodney Hayden in September 2013 had drifted into his vineyard and had damaged his crops.
In its ruling on the case the Supreme Court said: “Mr Caccaviello initially noticed that the vines were different on the morning of 4 October 2013, observing translucent shoots, drooping canes, and yellow speckling on foliage. Since then, he has observed that the vines have become anaemic, some show no signs of growth, there was a distinct unevenness in berry ripening, and the fruit produced was of poor quality.
“He has tried various methods to mitigate the effects of the spray drift, including pruning the vines (cutting them back to single cordons to encourage regeneration), pulse watering and using different varieties of nutrients. He gave evidence that these efforts to present have been to no avail.
“Mrs Caccaviello also described the progressive damage to the vines. She described the shoots growing longer, in a more distorted fashion, with deformed foliage. She witnessed a dark redness develop in the shoots and the tips turned brown, were crunchy and fell off as they died. She also observed different stages of growth in the vines, such that there could be a flowered bunch and a little bunch that had not even flowered yet on the same vine.”
Caccaviello also claimed that as a result of the spray drift 8000 vines needed to be removed and replanted and that for the replanting to be successful the property required that the entire trellis and irrigation infrastructures be removed and replaced and the young vines trained onto cordons. Even once the replanting was completed he claimed it will be some years before the vineyard would return to full productivity.
The court heard that Hayden had confirmed he had sprayed his with a mixture that contained 2,4-D, glyphosate and metsulfuron-methyl and which included a wetting agent based on ammonium sulphate.
Hayden denied any drift had occurred and also that any interference would not have resulted in the damage that Caccaviello claimed.
However Judge John Dixon ruled that he was satisfied that the weather conditions on the day were not suitable for spraying and that the concentrations of spray used were not suitable. He was also satisfied that there was enough spray in enough concentration as to cause serious damage to the vines.
Judge Dixon ordered Hayden to pay Riverman $6,543,626.10 in damages and a further $704,587.66 in interest.