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Department of Pesticide Regulation Announces Completion of Strawberry Working Group Action Plan to Reduce Reliance on Soil Fumigants

Media Contact: Paul Verke
916-445-4300 |
April 9, 2013(13-2)

SACRAMENTO – The Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) announced it has released the Nonfumigant Strawberry Production Working Group's "Action Plan." The plan was created by a diverse working group of scientists and other specialists brought together by DPR Director Brian Leahy. Their task was to specify research priorities for advancing the development of management tools and practices to control soilborne pests in strawberry fields without fumigants.

"This plan is our road map to guide the research required to find production practices and tools necessary to maintain a viable strawberry industry without fumigants," said DPR Director Brian Leahy.

Over a period of several months, the group established focus areas for research and priority action items for DPR, the research community and the strawberry industry to pursue. The working group was asked to create this plan to help maintain 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. California grows 88 percent of the nation's strawberries. Fumigants are gaseous pesticides injected into the soil of agricultural fields prior to planting.

"This was a diverse group of people who set about the common goal of developing a plan to produce strawberry without fumigants," said Steve Fennimore, Extension Specialist, University of California, Davis. "Despite the variety of backgrounds and opinions, a consensus arose that you see in front of you. The plan is based on sound science and practical systems. Everyone who reads the plan will see that a considerable amount of work remains to be done."

The working group identified the need for collaborative research to test combinations of alternatives in extensive field trials and on-farm demonstrations. The recommended priority actions are categorized into three focus areas: Discovery, Research and Evaluation, and Adoption and Demonstration.

Discovery recommendations include:

  • Expand breeding programs for genetic resistance to soilborne pests.
  • Investigate, monitor and manage soil microbial populations to promote plant health.

Research and Evaluation recommendations include:

  • Improve viability of options such as anaerobic soil disinfestation, biopesticides, biofumigants, soilless substrate, steam, and solarization.
  • Determine how these techniques could be combined into an integrated pest management system.
  • Promote more collaborative research.

Adoption and Demonstration recommendations include:

  • Ensure comprehensive and easily accessed resources are available for producers online.
  • Develop ways to mitigate risks growers take when adopting new practices early. Consider new approaches to grants for growers and new options for crop insurance.
  • Foster early adoption of alternative practices, such as in regions with nearby sensitive sites like schools.

"The working group believes these recommendations, if implemented, can build on past efforts and further refine, develop and ultimately lead to adoption of alternative options, reducing reliance on soil fumigants," said Fennimore.

"Full implementation of the Action Plan recommendations will require a major commitment of time and resources by a broad range of groups in the private and public sectors," said Leahy.

The urgency for nonfumigant methods is underscored by:

  • Methyl bromide, the primary fumigant used in strawberry fruit 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" at least 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 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, Arysta LifeScience, in 2012.

The Action Plan complements DPR's research partnership with the California Strawberry Commission. The focus of the $500,000, three-year research project announced in March is growing strawberries in peat or substances other than soil. It also complements DPR's new research grant program, which includes $500,000 annually for grants that DPR would award for researching production practices that reduce reliance on fumigants and other high-risk pesticides.

The working group, research partnership and grant program are paid for out of the special fund generated by fees that support DPR's programs. The group includes:


Brian R. Leahy, Director, Department of Pesticide Regulation


Greg Browne, Research Plant Pathologist and Director, U.S. Department of Agriculture's Western Areawide Program for Methyl Bromide Alternatives, Davis

Steve Fennimore, Specialist in Cooperative Extension, Department of Plant Sciences, U.S. Agricultural Research Station, Salinas, University of California, Davis

Anne Katten, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Sacramento

Karen Klonsky, Specialist in Cooperative Extension, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of California, Davis

Rod Koda, Strawberry grower, Watsonville

Dan Legard, Vice President of Research and Education, California Strawberry Commission, Watsonville

Pam Marrone, Founder and chief executive officer, Marrone Bio Innovations, Davis

Gary Obenauf, Agricultural research consultant and chair of the Methyl Bromide Alternatives Conference, Fresno

Carol Shennan, Professor of Agroecology, University of California, Santa Cruz

John Steggall, Office of Pesticide Consultation and Analysis, California Department of Food and Agriculture, Sacramento.

One of five departments and boards within the California Environmental Protection Agency, DPR regulates the registration, sale and use of pesticides and fosters reduced-risk pest management to protect people and the environment.

Action plan, PDF (1.8 mb)

Working group bios

Strawberry Research Partnership website

For more information about the California Strawberry Commission, a state government agency that represents 500 growers, please visit:


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