Spray season under way

Aerial warfare: Marlborough Helicopters sprays herbicide on a forestry block in Collins River in the Whangamoa hills.
Aerial warfare: Marlborough Helicopters sprays herbicide on a forestry block in Collins River in the Whangamoa hills.

The spraying season is under way in Marlborough farmland, forests and vineyards.

Owen Dodson of Marlborough Helicopters said this month his company advertised that its pilots would be applying chemicals throughout Marlborough and Nelson until the end of July, despite there being no legal need to let people know.

Ninety per cent of helicopter spraying was in remote back-country, he said. The chemicals used were safe for humans, farm animals and pets but must be kept out of waterways.

He always alerted neighbours when spraying near boundaries, especially on the densely populated Wairau Plain.

Spray booms on his helicopters minimised drift to avoid killing vines.

"In cool conditions with the wind blowing the right way we are more than happy to work right up to the boundary fence."


Programme aims at safer spraying

A voluntary programme aimed at safe aerial crop spraying and poison dispersal is taking off in Marlborough.

John Sinclair of Blenheim, who administers the Aviation Industry Association's Aircare standard, says 54 companies have been accredited or are undergoing accreditation. Since the standard was launched three years ago, more than half the agricultural aviation industry had joined.

Companies were audited every year to tick off the safe application of agrichemicals, fertiliser and toxins like 1080, amongst other things, he said. Landcorp and the Animal Health Board used only Aircare-accredited operators.

However, Conservation Minister Nick Smith had dropped the Department of Conservation out of the programme, endorsed by his predecessor Kate Wilkinson, Mr Sinclair said.

Marlborough Helicopters Ltd was the first company Aircare accredited, in 2011, and was one of the programme's top performers, Mr Sinclair said.

Peter Weir of forestry company Ernslaw One said, "There is no legal requirement to be Aircare-accredited but it puts our mind at rest."

Last weekend Kaituna-based Southern Helicopters flew herbicide over the Tordarroch forest managed by Ernslaw One for its sister company Timbergrow which owns 6000ha of forests in Marlborough.

This was to kill long grass growing under young pine trees.

Mr Weir later discovered that Southern Helicopters' Aircare certification was no longer current and told its owners the company could not work for it again until this was renewed.

Southern Helicopters owner, Dean Matthews, said the company remained in the Aircare programme, was in the process of renewing its certification, but this had not been finalised.

Ray Patchett of Omaka-based Patchett Ag-Air Ltd said while Aircare certification sounded good, it was just another compliance cost. Small but good operators could not afford certification costs leaving the market to companies with multiple machines.

Ag-Air flew in chemicals and fertiliser by plane at about half the cost of a helicopter, Mr Patchett said. However, planes' speed meant spread was not as accurate.

"Fear of being sued keeps me off the Wairau Plain where there are so many grapes," he said.

Almost all of Ag-Air's work was spraying weeds on out-of-the-way farms.

Marlborough District Council environmental science and monitoring manager Alan Johnston said the Civil Aviation Authority was responsible for enforcing environmental safety.


August-October: hormone spray 24D to kill thistles in pasture, never near grapes.

October-November: sulphur as a fungicide in vineyards once vines break into leaf, typically every 10-14 days then ground-spray through to harvest

September-November: glyphosate [Roundup] to spray out old pasture before re-sowing.

Early October-Christmas: herbicides including Tordon and Versatill on farmland to kill broom, gorse, matagouri and briar and sometimes Valzine, to release young pines on forestry blocks

November: insecticides including Karate to kill may-bugs in grapes and Lorsban for insect pests in greenfeed

Late December-February: metsulfuron against barberry, matagouri, briar and manuka mainly on farmland

February-May: on forestry blocks, glyphosate plus metsulfuron to kill bracken, broom and gorse before pine trees are planted.

The Marlborough Express