The Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) convened a diverse work group of scientists and other specialists to develop an action plan to accelerate the development of management tools and practices to control soil-borne pests in strawberry fields without fumigants. Fumigants are gaseous pesticides injected into the soil of agricultural fields prior to planting. The 10-member working group was charged with recommending research priorities for maintaining the viability of the state's $2.3 billion strawberry industry in the face of increasing restrictions on fumigant use and the phase-out of the fumigant methyl bromide.
The urgency for nonfumigant methods is underscored by:
- Methyl bromide, the primary fumigant used in strawberry production, was technically phased out by 2005 under an international treaty to protect the earth's ozone layer. However, its limited use is allowed under "critical- use exemptions" through 2014.
- Strawberry growers are replacing methyl bromide with other fumigants, but their use is limited by health-protective measures.
- Growers face increasing costs and loss of land available for production due to buffer zone requirements and other restrictions to protect farm workers and people living near fields. Additional state and federal restrictions on fumigants are expected by the end of the year that will further affect production costs.
- Methyl iodide, a fumigant touted as a replacement for methyl bromide, was pulled from the California marketplace by its manufacturer in March 2011.
The work group's efforts will complement DPR's research partnership with the California Strawberry Commission. The focus of the $500,000, three-year research project announced in March 2011 is growing strawberries in peat or substances other than soil. In addition, DPR's budget as augmented in 2012 to include $500,000 annually for grants that DPR would award for researching nonfumigant production practices.