Strawberries are California’s third-largest crop, with annual farm-gate sales of $2.5 billion. California strawberry growers have leaned heavily on methyl bromide – a fumigant – to kill soil-borne pests, including insects, soil and weeds. Introduced in 1932, methyl bromide was registered for use in the United States in 1961.
In 1991, methyl bromide was identified as an “ozone-depleting compound.” It was scheduled for phaseout in 2005 as part of the Montreal Protocol. (The Montreal Protocol is an international agreement signed in 1987. It was designed to help protect the stratospheric ozone layer.) 2016 is the last year in which methyl bromide will be available.
With a widely used tool off the table, what’s next for strawberry growers? What will California’s strawberry industry do without methyl bromide?
That question is explored in the most recent issue of California Agriculture, a University of California peer-reviewed journal that reports a range of research and news about California agriculture, natural resources and human health and nutrition. The latest issue features seven articles that explore alternatives to methyl bromide and how the chemical’s phaseout could impact California’s strawberry industry.
Editor’s Note: Cal Ag, as it’s often referred to, has been published by UC’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources since 1946. It’s one of the oldest land-grant university research publications in the nation. Its readership includes those employed in agriculture, public policy experts, government employees, academics and media, among others. Cal Ag is widely indexed: AGRICOLA; the California Digital Library; Thomson Reuters Web of Science; EBSCO, Elsevier and others. You can subscribe free here.
In this issue of California Agriculture
Each article is worth a read. Julie Guthman’s research article detailing the methyl iodide controversy is particularly interesting. Methyl iodide was once promoted as a potentially viable substitute to methyl bromide, but was not widely adopted by strawberry producers. After a regulatory battle, the maker of methyl iodide, Arysta LifeScience, withdrew it, claiming the chemical “was no longer economically viable.”
Guthman, a social scientist and researcher who teaches at UC Santa Cruz, is the author of Agrarian Dreams: The Paradox of Organic Farming in California. For her research project, she interviewed producers in California’s top four strawberry-growing counties (Monterey, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara and Ventura) and learned why growers didn’t adopt the alternative. A key reason? Fear of the public’s disapproval.
Other articles explore the dramatic growth of the berry industry (including blackberries and raspberries). Researchers assess how water, consumer demands, labor issues and invasive pests – in addition to the phaseout of methyl bromide – might shape future growth. Researchers also discuss a range of strategies to manage soilborne pests, including anaerobic soil disinfestation, a chemical-free technique that’s gaining traction with some commercial producers.
Have a great day!