'Gorilla Snot' Used On Arizona Farmer's Fields After Dust Shut Down I-10

Published: Thursday, June 2, 2016 - 6:46am
Updated: Thursday, June 2, 2016 - 12:01pm
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(Photo by Jimmy Jenkins)
Bad farming practices on land in southern Arizona led to blowing dust that closed down portions of Interstate 10.
(Photo courtey of Chad Falkenberg - Soilworks)
A truck sprays water and Gorilla Snot on farmland near San Simone. Dust from the property caused multiple closures of Interstate 10.

Kevin Rogers is a fourth generation farmer with operations all over the Valley. Standing in the middle of a freshly cut field in Scottsdale, he surveys the crop.

"This is triticale," Rogers said. "It's kind of a grain — almost a millet looking kind of feed.”
 
Soon this wheat-like crop will be processed into feed for dairy cows. A combine rolls by to cut the slender stalks, leaving behind stubble in the field like a green, 5-o'clock shadow.
 
“The idea is to leave as much organic matter on the soil as you can so it doesn’t blow away,” he said.
 
But that’s exactly what happened on a stretch of farmland near San Simone on the New Mexico border last month. A landowner named David Turner bulldozed more than 1,000 acres of virgin soil — in some places as deep as three feet. Rogers said in farming, you’re bound to make mistakes. But as far as screw-ups go, "This is pretty major," he said.

Caroline Oppleman with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality said her department contacted the landowner after complaints started rolling in. The dust made it hard to breathe and hard to see. It was so bad that the Department of Transportation closed a 60-mile stretch of the Interstate 10 seven times in a matter of weeks after multiple accidents.

"The nature of this dust is that it is extremely fine and it creates a major hazard in terms of visibility," Oppleman said. "Particulate matter in the air also can be a public health risk.”
 
Oppleman said the landowner was initially slow to comply, but eventually agreed to do something about the dust.
 
Chad Falkenberg was contracted by the state to help mitigate the dust problem. He runs a Scottsdale company called Soilworks that produces, among other things, a dust containing polymer called "Gorilla Snot."

“So what we did is we filled these water trucks up with water and then we added our Gorilla Snot concentrate," Falkenberg said. "It self mixes inside of the tank and then they simply drive to the area and spray it out over the surface of the ground where we’re creating a thin crust to cap off everything.”
 
Soilworks was one of two companies contracted to deal with the dust. The state and the landowner have spent more than $400,000 containing the problem. Falkenberg said they used more than 40,000 gallons of Gorilla Snot on one of the worst cases of soil erosion he’s ever seen.
 
“Literally there was moon dust up to your knees — you step in it and it just billows out from where you’re walking," Falkenberg said. "I’d never experienced conditions that dusty before.”
 
Soilworks normally works on mining, construction and defense department projects. They’ve helped build roads in Sudan and runways in Afghanistan. While Falkenberg thinks this is the first time his product has ever been used in an agricultural setting. He said the polymer is biodegradable and environmentally safe and the crust should keep the dust in check for as much as a year until the landowner decides to plant his first crop.
 
Farmer Kevin Rogers hopes that when he does, he’ll seek advice on soil conservation.

“We want to make sure they get cover crops on that virgin property and we want to make sure their sprinklers are up and running as quickly as they can be — that they’ve got their wells fired up and so we’re here to help them if they’d like it to make sure they’re using some of the practices that make sense for their part of the country,” Rogers said.
 
No word yet on whether the state will seek damages against the land owner. Oppleman from ADEQ said they’re still waiting on the dust to settle.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been modified to correct the spelling of David Turner's name.

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