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Alaskans Swarm Over Popular Bug Powder

June 23, 2003|Rachel D'Oro | Associated Press

Customers accused shop owners of hoarding the stuff. Trappers called them unprintable names. Old-time Alaskans moaned their disappointment at the empty store shelves.

All this over an ochre-colored powder with a barnyard smell.

Now Buhach is back after a three-year absence, and merchants throughout Alaska are hustling to stock up with bright yellow canisters of the insecticide that has been popular in the state for nearly 100 years.

"People would hurt me to get at some," said Gary Lorenzen, a buyer for Samson True Value Hardware in Fairbanks. He quickly ran out of the 700 canisters from his first shipment and doubled his next order from the manufacturer, Buhach Co., a small family-owned business based in the Seattle area.

Alaska, host each summer to hordes of mosquitoes and other bugs, is the top market for the brand.

The recent shortage was the result of droughts followed by flooding in East Africa, where farmers grow 85% of the world's pyrethrum flowers, the main ingredient in the product. Political unrest there also put a clamp on the supply, said Francine Norwood, whose family has owned Buhach Co. for 22 years.

"It's been really difficult. We even ran out of the family supply," she said. "People were calling us and saying, 'We need some Buhach.' We told them we needed some too. People are just ecstatic to have it back."

Buhach has gained an almost mythical status as a cure-all for pests. It is considered an organic pesticide, sprinkled in gardens to eliminate insects, burned in heaps to ward off mosquitoes.

Alaskans are by far the most dedicated users, constituting as much as 60% of Buhach Co.'s sales, Norwood said.

The company also does a brisk business in Washington state and Oregon. Many customers get the product through gardening catalogs.

"People love their Buhach," said Kent Harrington, general manager of V.F. Grace Inc., an Anchorage wholesale distributor with clients all over Alaska.

Fans say Buhach is an effective deterrent to Alaska's many bugs. It is lethal to insects but relatively harmless to humans and other mammals.

Its label says Buhach is 1% pyrethrins, the generic name for six active compounds derived from the pyrethrum plant, a species of the chrysanthemum plant. The rest of it is powdered pyrethrum flowers, also used in veterinary medicines, food crops and lice shampoo for humans.

Buhach is expensive compared with synthetic insecticides. But Alaskans are willing to pay $10 to $14 for an 8-ounce canister.

John Burns, a Lake Minchumina trapper and fur buyer, swears by the stuff.

"For me, nothing else fills the void," he said. "You don't know how bad it can get until you go out and the mosquitoes practically carry you away."

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