Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

New task force tackles strawberry pesticide alternatives

Norbert Millauer/AFP/Getty Images

California’s strawberry industry has taken a substantial hit this year in terms of pesticides. Just as controversy over the use of methyl iodide was coming to a boil (opponents of the chemical claim it causes cancer), the pesticide’s Japanese manufacturer, Arysta LifeScience, pulled it from the American market.

With methyl iodide already a replacement for the pesticide methyl bromide (phased out after being cited as an ozone-depleting agent), California’s strawberry farmers have been left with little alternatives to combat insects and diseases that attack their crops.

As reported by the Southwest Farm Press, the Department of Pesticide Regulation has put together a special panel of scientists, farmers, and industry advocates to create a five-year plan of action for finding alternative ways of handling the situation without the use of controversial chemicals. The task force has been given until the fall of this year to draft a plan.

“California’s strawberry industry urgently needs practical and cost-effective ways to grow strawberries without soil fumigants,” said director Brian R. Leahy in the Farm Press. “Our Nonfumigant Strawberry Production Work Group has a tall task. We want a full spectrum of production methods that control soil-borne diseases, weeds and other pests while protecting human health and the environment. This group can also help us develop a strategy on how to best use available fumigant tools going forward.”

It's no small problem — the state's $2.3 billion industry produces 88 percent of the strawberries in America.

"California is signaling support for innovation, including entrepreneurs who will bring new techniques to the market and the cutting-edge farmers who will use them in the fields," added Margaret Reeves, a senior scientist with the Pesticide Action Network to the Mercury News.