It’s a sad irony that for years growing a healthy strawberry conventionally has required methyl bromide, a chemical so harmful it has been banned by international treaty because it is destroying the Earth’s ozone layer.
This is such a tedious myth. Life on earth is not and never has been dependent on the conceptual “ozone layer” (stratospheric ozone) and upper atmosphere ozone is not being “depleted” by humans or any other agent.
Another dose of irony: The soil fumigant at first favored to replace methyl bromide, methyl iodide, is perhaps even more despised, with studies linking it to cancer, birth defects and other maladies, and now it has been yanked from the U.S. market.
So where does that leave strawberry growers? In a very strange place, to be sure. Conventional farmers right now do not have an effective alternative to methyl bromide — some soil-cleansing process or additive that gives farmers the crop protection they need while also ensuring the health of rural communities and farmworkers.
The one bright spot we see now that the alternative has been shelved is that state regulators are moving quickly to speed up research into alternatives.
Brian Leahy, director of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, announced Tuesday the creation of a panel of scientists that has until late fall to come up with a five-year action plan. It’s a positive sign the panel will include representatives from California’s $2.3 billion strawberry industry and farmworker advocates, as all parties are going to have to solve this issue together.
The methyl bromide tale is long and complicated.