Wine growers are focused on productivity — not strategy
By William(Bill)U.Couzens
©Times Community Newspapers 2006

Because of a lack of collaborative leadership on the part of Virginia’s wine growers, the Commonwealth’s newest industry has lost focus on an asset that could have carved a niche in Virginia’s proud agricultural heritage.

Despite the vast sums of money and extensive lobbying efforts, observers note that the results have been more like a bull in a china shop.

Due to uninspiring leadership, viticulture in Virginia took a turn when it came to the challenge of blending vineyards with communities. They have not advocated a way that allows for collaborative partnerships in communities.

Virginia’s vineyards — as pesticide application sites — have the potential for hazardous accidents and pesticide drift. Virginia wine growers have not embraced and or promoted best practices to reduce those risks.

According to Virginia Secretary of Agriculture Robert S. Bloxum, the state recommends to localities that pesticide application sites not be located next to schools, and that they are subject to state review.

The EPA, CDC and NIH have long warned of the hazards of pesticides and the known harms to human health, anything from eye irritations to cancer.

The leadership of Virginia wine growers could have reached for the low hanging fruit.

Instead, they have overlooked the obvious and have placed communities — and more specifically, schools — on the back burner.

In this day and age of unprecedented cases of cancer, communities must look to reducing the unnecessary and preventable environmental exposures that have been linked to such illnesses.

A pesticide application site next to a school is counter-intuitive to those practices. Schools are the “unregulated” workplaces of children who are different from adults.

Pound for pound, children eat more food, drink more water, and breathe more air than adults. Thus, they are likely to be exposed to substances in their environment at higher levels than are adults.

In addition to the pressing human health and environmental issues, new proposed legislation — House Bill 1435 — is looking to continue more of Virginia’s “anything goes” policy, allowing for unlimited promotional events, while another bill, HB 1288, is looking to allow for direct sales.

Lowering the bar is not what’s going to help Virginia’s vineyards; rather, focusing on getting the industry stronger and healthier. Slick talk is not the solution; industry leaders need to establish standards that have communities in mind.

In addition to concerns of compromising human health and the environment with dangerous pesticides, communities with vineyards now have to address traffic and safety issues, to include drunk driving.

Drunk driving is an especially dangerous proposition, since Virginia allows vineyards next to schools and playgrounds. With concerns for increased chances for drunk drivers leaving vineyards, one has to wonder if that is why we don’t see bars next to schools.

Virginia’s wine growers must to do their jobs better to grow their business. They must be guided to think less of their immediate needs for productivity. Virginia communities must not be second to its vineyards; our communities must be first.