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CCVT focus on sulfur

CCVT focus on sulfur – Central Coast Vineyard Team

Kris O’Connor

Growers and community members benefit from outreach effort.

More than 200 people attended the Central Coast Vineyard Team’s (CCVT) sulfur management educational meetings in February, representing over 25,000 acres of winegrapes on the Central Coast. Each of the host growers had experience with farming around sensitive areas-i.e., schools, residential, roads, bus stops-and they represented outstanding examples of proactive farming around non-agricultural areas. Although too early to demonstrate practices in the vineyard, the goal of the program was to heighten awareness for the upcoming season.

In addition, a productive dialogue between growers and community members occurred at the Santa Ynez meeting. Representatives from the Department of Pesticide Regulation and the Agricultural Commissioner’s office provided additional information to growers and community members.

Why Address Sulfur Dust?

CCVT’s Kris O’Connor opened each meeting by emphasizing the collaboration between CCVT and the California Winegrape Pest Management Alliance (PMA) in promoting reduced-risk practices for pest management in winegrapes. Despite no reported incidents of sulfur drift in Monterey County during 1997 to 1999, she stressed that growers still must implement strategies that minimize the potential for incidents. In fact, future incidents here or elsewhere in the state could result in widespread regulations related to sulfur products and/or uses.

Joe Browde, PMA project coordinator, provided background on the PMA and discussed how these educational efforts targeting sustainable vineyard practices complement each other. PMA must be the communication link for reduced-risk strategies and tactics to growers within and across winegrape regions. Also, PMA is incorporating an element of public education, ensuring awareness of grower efforts toward reducing pesticide risks and strengthening community relationships. He summarized past sulfur drift incidents, citing that a majority were public complaints involving dusting sulfur applications to grapes. The status of the Sulfur Task Force (STF) and its outreach program were discussed. Browde stressed the collaboration between the sulfur industry and winegrape growers in efforts to reduce sulfur drift incidents. The PMA approach differs from STF by relying on grower-to-grower education, based on “individual farm” case studies for managing sulfur applications near sensitive areas.

Monterey County Grower Shares Experience

The host grower for this meeting, Roger Moitoso, reviewed the sulfur management practices used at Arroyo Seco Vineyards. Despite farming next to sensitive areas (roadways, parks and schools), he effectively applies sulfur dusting without public complaint: A carefully prepared plan for the timing and sequence of applications, is key. More importantly, all dusting typically occurs at night, greatly limiting public visibility to activities and minimizing issues concerning wind. Winds are monitored to ensure that dust movement is away from sensitive areas and into vineyards, and rows closest to sensitive areas are treated first, beginning around 10 p.m., which minimizes “noise” complaints from nearby residents. Any applications that must continue after daybreak are confined to interior portions of vineyards.

Moitoso stressed the importance of good communication and training to ensure applicators use pesticides responsibly and safely. It is crucial that applicators understand and follow the plan for dusting sulfur application and adjust activities according to weather conditions or sudden changes in nearby human activity.

Other meeting attendees–owners, managers and operators–discussed sulfur practices for vineyards near sensitive areas. Some believe that more expensive applications of wettable sulfur should be used for entire vineyards or specific rows near extremely sensitive areas to further minimize the potential for drift. Since most wineries prohibit applications of wettable sulfur beginning at bloom, alternative reduced-risk sprays should be used thereafter. It was noted that use of low-volume electrostatic sprayers further reduces drift potential. Attendees also shared their experiences with operator training and reward systems.

Reducing Sulfur Risk at Royal Oaks Vineyards in Santa Ynez

Royal Oaks Vineyard, managed by CCVT board member Craig Macmillan, is a high profile site, with residential neighbors located nearby. The vineyard is visible from main roads on three sides. For these reasons, Macmillan takes extra care in making sure neighbors are informed and that his employees take necessary safety precautions.

Reducing Sulfur Risk:

* Macmillan maintains his spray rig well to get good coverage and no over-spray.

* An adjuvant is commonly used as a sticker/spreader.

* The sprayers are adjusted so nozzles are only at canopy height.

* Sprayers are calibrated and adjusted for every application.

* Macmillan’s goal is to reduce the amount of material used overall.

* At bud break, wettable sulfur with copper hydroxide is applied using a spray gun.

* The spray gun allows for a precise application and less material/acre.

* Leaf pulling and shoot thinning are done when canes are about 1 2 inches and can snap out easily.

* Leaf pulling and shoot thinning help to get the chemical into the fruit zone, which makes applications more effective.

* Last year, Macmillan rotated his spray schedule with sulfur and Abound.

* The Abound allowed him to go 21 days between spraying, which significantly reduced the amount of time in the vineyard.

Reducing Drift Risk:

* Macmillan’s vineyard has a tall stand of poplar trees between the residential area, which act as a screen.

* The poplars are full and green during the growing season.

* Residential areas are very close, so spraying must be done early in the morning because of noise.

* Spraying begins in the vineyard middle at 5:30 or 6 a.m. and continues to the outer edges.

* Outer edges are sprayed when rush-hour traffic subsides.

* The outer three rows are sprayed with one direction sprayer away from the road.

* Macmillan knows that the wind in Santa Ynez can start as early as 10 a.m., so he stops spraying well before this time.

Using Your Head:

* Macmillan has at least two training sessions a year for his operators/ applicators.

* He teaches his employees how sulfur is used, why sulfur is used, and they are taught to adjust the spray rig to be as precise as possible so the least amount of material is applied.

* Macmillan believes that spraying is similar to pruning in that if employees understand what they are trying to achieve then they feel they have a role in improving things and do a better job.

* Macmillan keeps in touch with the immediate neighbors to keep them informed about the developing winery and chemicals that are used; and he coordinates spraying away from a nearby bus stop, in case children are present.

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