Organic spraying

Bradley Gellatly of Agro Technologies in Seneca demonstrates Weed Slayer, an organic weedkiller, for city of Geneva Department of Public Works staff members, from left, Vincent Augustine and Tim Higgins and Director Joe Venuti on a recent day at Lakefront Park. The City is investigating organic methods and products as part of an effort to move from synthetic pesticides on city properties. City Council passed a resolution to ban those chemicals in July.

GENEVA — The city’s Department of Public Works is taking baby steps toward fulfilling a City Council directive pushed by Ward 3 Councilor Jan Regan to restrict the use of synthetic weed-control applications such as Roundup on most of its landscaped property.

A Florida-based company with research operations in Ontario County is lending a hand.

DPW Director Joe Venuti decided to give the treatment a test run recently as part of the city’s move to non-synthetics. That means finding a replacement for glyphosate, the most widely-used herbicide in the United States and an ingredient in Roundup.

“We have used this product because it is cost-effective and it works well,” said Venuti. “It is widely debated that glyphosate is a carcinogen and causes cancers to humans, but we know for sure it’s a synthetic material and is not going to be tolerated anymore per this new (Council) resolution.”

So Venuti looked for a non-synthetic solution.

Venuti said Neal Braman, director of development services for the city, connected him with Marc Lajeunesse, founder and CEO of Agro-Research International, based in Sorrento, Florida, but with local research operations in Seneca.

Venuti said Lajeunesse suggested Agro-Research’s Weed Slayer, a broad-spectrum herbicide for organic crops. He said Agro-Research met him and other city representatives, including Regan and Green Committee members for a product demonstration.

Venuti said Weed Slayer is made from eugenol, an essential oil from clove spice and molasses. He chuckled that Regan thought the stuff smelled “like fresh-baked cookies.”

Venuti said the late-season weather impacts the effectiveness of Weed Slayer but that the product appears to be “a viable alternative product that meets the City Council resolution’s guidelines and is ideal and safe for public spaces.”

But weeds aren’t the only issue the city hopes to address in more environmentally friendly ways.

“We are also trying some new products on insect control,” Venuti said.

One of the city’s contractors, Exodus Exterminating Inc. of Rochester, has found a product that could meet the new requirements to reduce or eliminate synthetics.

Venuti reached out to Exodus Operations Manager Deryk Kemp who offered to demonstrate a botanical pest control product free of potential harmful synthetic ingredients. Kemp suggested a product called Essentria IC-3 for the area around the Finger Lakes Welcome Center.

The DPW leader said it’s an insecticide concentrate formulated with three “potent” botanically derived ingredients — rosemary oil, geraniol and peppermint oil. Together, they can repel mosquitoes and other flying insects such as ticks and fleas. Peppermint oil kills and repels insects and also attacks the larval of a number of species, he noted.

Venuti said the city has worked with the Welcome Center’s manager, Heather Tuttle of New York Kitchen, to perform test strip applications and then general treatment.

“My staff and I are committed to finding alternative safer products to use around the city and our beautiful lakefront,” Venuti said. “We hope to find positive results with both of these products and maybe help to influence residents to give them a try at home as well.”

Venuti acknowledged there is concern non-synthetic products may not be as effective as traditional herbicides and pesticides and that followup applications may be needed.

Regan said she is pleased to see Venuti’s department acting quickly on the Council directive.

“I’d like to salute our DPW chair and his team and thank them for how they have handled incorporation of this ban,” Regan said. “I recognize the work of this important step falls on their shoulders — but they have not balked at it, and rather taken efforts to learn how best to make it work for the city.”

Venuti noted the city hires out for some of its landscape maintenance, which includes Lakefront Park, but that the contractors are agreeable to finding non-synthetic applications.

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