Herbicide shortages challenge vineyard managers Driving throughher vineyardsonachilly morning inDecember,HortenciaAlvarado istakingcomfort—fornow—thattheweeds she sees are all yellow. But there remains a naggingworry that, like the pesky plants, is merely lyingdormant for theseason. following the harvest of early varietals. Alvarado’s agricultural pest control advis- er had recommended a different product, instead of their usual standby, Rely, be- cause none of the handful of suppliers in California could find it.
Growers of grapes, the third-highest val- uedagricultural commodity inCaliforniaat $4.48billion in2020 , likelywon’t be able to accesstheherbicidesthattheyusuallyapply. “I definitely need to start thinking and considering it because Idon’twant tobe in that situationwhereIdon’thave[theherbi- cide]whenIneed it,” saidAlvarado, avine- yardmanager in the San JoaquinValley. She first noticed the effects of the short- ages last August, during the application
wewanted it to do,” Alvarado explained. They quickly pivoted to their mechani- calweeder tochopup theweeds, but that’s been an imperfect solution. They only have onemachine and it would take three or four machines to adequately weed the nearly 3,000 acres that Alvaradomanages. The need formoremachines or labor is just one result of the herbicide shortage, saidGeorgeZhuang,UniversityofCalifornia CooperativeExtensionviticulturefarmadvi- sor inFresnoCounty. Zhuanghas received “alot”ofcallsfromgrowersaboutthechemi- calsupplyissues,whicharealsoaffectingfer- tilizers.He’sbeenurgingthemtomoveaway from traditional herbicides tomechanical means or biocontrol suchas sheepor fowl, eventhoughtheymightbemoreexpensive. Zhuangestimates thatwhileaweedpro- gramcomprises5%to10%of total produc- tion costs in a normal year with the usual herbicides, the use of nonchemical alter- natives could hike that percentage 10% to 20%. Inadditionto their impact onthebot- tomline, effectiveherbicides are especial- ly crucial to grape growers because vines, unlike tree crops, cannot naturally shade weeds with expansive canopies. “Right now, people can still scramble around and find some limited chemicals tomake sure the crop is successful for the harvest, but if the situationgoes for anoth- er year, I think there’s going tobeapanic in farming communities,” Zhuang said. Unfortunately, theavailabilityof certain products is likely going to be “challenged” into at least themiddle of 2022, according to Andy Biancardi, a Salinas-based sales manager at Wilbur-Ellis, an international marketer and distributor of agricultural products and chemicals. Biancardi said that the suppliers he talks to are advising people tomake preparations. The supply of glyphosate, the key com- ponent in products such as RoundUp, appears to be most affected, Biancardi said. That shortage has put the squeeze on alternatives such as glufosinate, used inproducts likeRely, anherbicide favored bymany California grape growers. “The cost of glufosinate has definitely gone up because there just isn’t enough, so everyone is obviously marking it up,” said Biancardi, who estimates that prices for bothglyphosateandglufosinateareup 25% to 30%. Alvarado said that while large commer- cialoperationsareabletopay thepremium prices or shift to other weed control mea- sures, some smaller growers have essen- tially given up the fight, simply letting the weeds take over. “They’re just letting it go wild until the dormant season,” she said. Biancardisaidthatwhilehiscompanytra- ditionally runs inventories downat the end of the season, they are instead stocking up onherbicides that customerswill demand. “Careful planning and forecasting is go- ing to bemore important than ever, that’s really the key,” he said. “At this point we can’t guarantee ‘business as usual,’ based onwhat we’re hearing.” (This article was originally published by University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources.)
Alvarado’s foreman reported that the substitutewasn’t controlling theweeds. “We were using some other stuff that wasn’t as good, so basicallywewerewast- ingmoney on stuff that wasn’t doingwhat
WhenMarch rolls around, and the first signs of new green growth appear on the vines, Alvaradoandother vineyardmanag- erswill againhave to confront the ongoing shockwavesoftheglobalsupply-chaincrisis.
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