CENTRAL TEXAS — The wine industry in Texas has been taking off but that growth may be slowed by an invisible force.
It's a state-wide issue: grapevines becoming deformed and producing less fruit. What could be the cause of the damage? The answer may literally be blowing in the wind.
Texas wine is a booming business, the industry amounting to $13 billion. But it hasn't been without its hurdles. Just look at the winter storm last year.
"Farming is a lot of luck," said Jeremy Austin when we spoke to him last year. Austin is the Vineyard Manager at 3 Texans Winery. "I mean, we rely on Mother Nature. She kind of dictates how good sometimes our years are and how awful they are."
Sometimes it's not the weather you have to beat. For some Texas vineyards, the grape crop has been harmed by an intruder from a neighboring field, a herbicide called 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, or 2,4-D for short. Big Rock Winery near Lake Whitney has had some brief encounters with it.
"I don't use 2,4-D, I don't even use Roundup," said Ricky Wilkins, owner of Big Rock Winery. "But when the 2,4-D hits the leaves, it causes little blisters on the leaves, and that's the 2,4-D damage."
After farmers use the chemical in their fields, 2,4-D can spread several miles in the air. Some studies have indicated that distance can be more than 50 miles. That means the herbicide can end up in some unwanted places. So far, vines at Big Rock Winery have only received cosmetic damage from the herbicide, but other vineyards haven't been so lucky.
"It's all over the state. It can kill the plant if they get a heavy spray," said Wilkins. "Because it can get into the root system, and once it gets to the root system, that's how 2,4-D works, it cuts off the water."
There's not a whole lot that wine-makers can do about it, because it's almost impossible to find the culprit.
"One, you gotta catch them in the act. And two, you gotta tell them to stop," Wilkins said. "Most of the time you can't prove where it comes from, so there you are."
This comes after a lawsuit was filed last year against Bayer-Monsanto, the maker of a cotton herbicide called dicamba. Grape growers in the Texas High Plains claimed that the use of dicamba for agriculture led to major losses of their crops.