Why that Iris field on the Arcata Bottom suddenly turned orange

The newly orangified field, with Sun Valley Floral Farm in the background. KLH | Union

Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union

ARCATA BOTTOM – Residents of the Arcata Bottom, and those who love its wide-open spaces, were recently surprised to see a huge field off Foster Avenue suddenly turn orange. Some thought it had been sprayed with an orange substance.

The parcel, APN 506-141-019-000 at 3125 Foster Avenue, is owned by the adjacent Sun Valley Floral Farms. It is bounded by Foster Avenue to the north, Dolly Varden Road to the west and Bay School Road to the south.

UPDATE: A reader points out that the treated field is directly adjacent to the headwaters of Liscom Slough, which takes a meandering path across the Bottoms to Humboldt Bay.

The treated field (highlighted in red) is at upper right, next to the headwaters of Liscom Slough. Google Maps image

Contacted on March 21, Sun Valley President and CEO Lane DeVries said the field "has not been treated with an orange substance of any kind." Said DeVries, " This is a field that was ridged up last fall then seeded with grass to minimize erosion. The grass is now disintegrating after a weed killer was put on, a few weeks ago. Providing the weather cooperates we will commence  planting Iris in several weeks. I hope this clarifies the situation."

A closer view of the location of the field. Google Maps image

It did, except that he declined requests to identify any substances applied to the field, saying only, "We would love to explain and communicate with neighbors if any concerns arise, please forward my email or that of Tim Crockenberg, our Production manager to those that express concern or have questions."

However, a Public Records Act filed with the Humboldt County Agricultural Commissioner eventually yielded the information.

According to official records, four acres at the site, named "Avila Field," was treated on Feb. 22 by ground application of eight quarts of Ranger Pro Herbicide and PHT AD-Max 90, an adjuvant. A second eight-quart application of Ranger Pro was made on March 16.

Ranger Pro is a generic form of glyphosate, commonly known as Roundup. Its chemical name is (Carboxymethylamino)methylphosphonic Acid, molecular formula C3H8NO5P. Herbicide adjuvants are substances added to improve herbicidal activity or application characteristics.

An extremely common herbicide first used in 1974, glyphosate, a non-selective herbicide prevents plants from making certain proteins that are needed for growth. Glyphosate stops a specific enzyme pathway necessary for plants and some microorganisms.

The household version is commonly used to kill weeds sprouting up in cracks in concrete, for example. On an industrial level, it is used to control broadleaf weeds and grasses on cultivated fields such as Sun Valley's iris field. It is also used with some glyphosate-resistant (transgenic) and GMO (genetically modified organisms) crops, including canola, corn, cotton, soybeans, sugar beets and wheat.

Glyphosate is also controversial. On March 28, following a landmark court decision, California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) announced the addition glyphosate to the list of chemicals known to the state to cause cancer for purposes of Proposition 65.

A number of countries have banned glyphosate outright. Thousands of court cases are in progress, though some have been concluded. On March 27, a federal jury ordered Monsanto, its original manufacturer, to pay longtime Roundup user Edwin Hardeman, 70 and a victim of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, $80 million in damages.

A glyphosate molecule.

The product's defenders say the verdict is based on "junk science," that it is safe when used as directed and that bans on its use will result in higher food prices and use of more toxic substances to accomplish the same results.

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a draft risk assessment for glyphosate in December, 2017, concluding that it is "not likely to be carcinogenic to humans. The Agency’s assessment found no other meaningful risks to human health when the product is used according to the pesticide label."

The United Nations has issued somewhat contradictory evaluations of glyphosate.

DeVries confirmed that "we adhere and comply with state and federal laws" regarding the substance's use.

County records indicate that notification of area schools is required. The field which was treated is not far from the Bloomfield School campus, home of Coastal Grove Charter School and Fuente Nueva Charter School. A Friday after noon call to the Arcata School District to confirm the notification was not immediately returned.

UPDATE: Lane DeVries states via email: "We did notify the school before applying this material. Furthermore, a Humboldt County Agricultural Department inspector, accompanied by a visiting inspector from DPR [Department of Pesticide Regulation] were present at the onset of the application."






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