Randy Zopf

In response to the Smith River Neighborhood Watch’s concerns about the lily farmer’s pesticide use, in this case glyphosate — brand name Roundup — causing pollution of the Smith River watershed and private wells, is not based on hard facts.

One can understand their position but the article was replete with half-truths, misinformation and insufficient data to back up the opinions of coordinator Joni Forsht.

First and foremost, the Del Norte County Agricultural Commissioner’s office spends 90 percent of their time on pesticide regulations and enforcement at the lily farms, and 10 percent on other pesticide usage in the county, adding up to more than 1,500 hours. The office is responsible for enforcing the strict state rules and regulations of pesticide use in the county.

As an example, 48-hour notices of intent must be filed with the agricultural office prior to applications of pesticides and fumigants. Site inspections are required and re-entry periods for farm workers can be as high as one week.

Furthermore, California is the most regulated state in the nation when it comes to pesticide use. Monthly and annual pesticide use reports must be filed with the state Department of Pesticide Regulations indicating the exact amount of materials used at each farm. So the misguided notion that lily farmers are running amok, unregulated, is nonsense.

With little or no data to back up their claims, the maligned lily farmers are once again under the microscope by laypersons with no idea about the industry and how it approaches pesticide applications.

There are federal label restrictions regarding wind speed — 10 mph or in this case, most farmers won’t even spray at over 8 mph to be safe — so no applications can be made if they exceed that threshold.

All pesticide applicators must be licensed by the state and must take annual safety courses along with the operators of the farms. Additionally, annual blood testing of farm workers for cholinesterase levels are required. Protective equipment such as respirators, gloves, eyewear and protective clothing are required by the federal labels to protect the field workers from exposure. Safe disposal of containers is mandatory as is maintaining a secure facility to store chemicals.

In January 2018, the lily farmers were found to be in violation of the Clean Water Act. The Siskiyou Land Conservancy led the way on the analysis and testing of the Smith River, at their own expense. The executive director, Greg King, submitted the results of their studies and immediately lambasted the lily industry in its entirety, in this case in regards to the use of copper sulfate and its toxicity to the coho salmon, which is an alarming finding, one which the fisheries on the Smith River cannot sustain.

But the inane idea that boycotts of the lily farmers should be called for is unfounded and does not take into account that the industry grosses more than $8 million per year and the positive contributions it provides to our local economy.

Lily farmers have been held responsible for everything from allergies to cancer, once again with only anecdotal evidence to support their unfounded claims, per a spurious 2016 health survey of 156 residents (14 percent) of Smith River. Hardly a scientific approach.

In November 2016, the Triplicate reported that “People are afraid of the lily growers. They will hurt your families if you talk,” which is again an unfounded accusation.

The lily farmers have tried an organic approach but powdery mildew, nematodes and fungi are not controlled and result in crop losses.

To cite a study done in 2002 by Humboldt State University, with no recall of the researcher, is hardly a benchmark for the current state of the industry.

Del Norte County residents and the lily farmers all agree that preserving the water quality of the Smith River is paramount. The lily farmer’s families live here, drink the water and swim and fish in the river. So to opine that they are not stewards of their lands is a false presumption not born out of facts.

The lily farming industry cannot turn on a dime to alter their pesticide practices. The Easter Lily Research Foundation is on the cutting edge of trying alternative methods of control of powdery mildew, fungi and nematodes, such as integrated pest management techniques, which rely on pesticide use only if there are escalations of pests that cannot be otherwise controlled. After 2020, most restricted-use pesticides will be eliminated, which will require new solutions to pesticide and herbicide use by the lily farmers.

The suggested potential of excessive amounts of nitrogen entering the Smith River due to cattle farm production, although pertinent, should be dealt with in a separate forum from the pesticide issues. Cattle farmers have a right to respond with facts, not to the ill-informed opinions of watch groups.

Both of these issues are relevant and pertinent to maintaining a healthy watershed on the Smith River and its estuaries. But maligning the lily and cattle farmers and posturing that these industries commitments to healthy land management preservation of water quality and maintaining vital fisheries are unfounded.

Randy Zopf of Crescent City is an environmental activist and a California Structural Pest Control Board licensee.