California blackberry grower Eduardo Garcia of Ventura County sees the writing on the wall as government regulators continue to clamp down on the use of crop protection materials in agriculture.

Garcia is a crop consultant, pest control adviser, and first-generation berry grower. He is well aware of the potential impact over the impending loss of the fumigant methyl bromide in California agriculture.

Preplant fumigants kill soil-borne diseases including verticillium wilt and fusarium wilt — key diseases in berry production - plus soil-borne pests and weeds. Fumigants are used in more than 100 commodities in the U.S. 

Regulators contend methyl bromide emissions enter the air and deplete the Earth’s ozone layer.

“The future of the California berry industry is under threat due to the loss of methyl bromide,” Garcia said. “The problem is alternative products on the market are not as effective.”

This spring, Garcia, 27, launched his commercial blackberry farm in the Santa Clara River Valley in Santa Paula. The launch was based on the methyl bromide issue and potential profitability at the forefront.

“We have to look for different ways to grow berries,” said the young farmer.

Garcia’s California Coast Farm includes five acres of soilless, conventionally-grown blackberries on leased land surrounded by steep hillsides and rocky terrain blanketed by avocado and citrus groves.

Driving to the farm, located about 1,000 feet above sea level over the valley plain floor and 15 miles from the coast, is a jostling experience.

Instead of soil, Garcia planted 4-inch to 6-inch blackberry plugs in a planting medium called coir which is placed in 3-gallon plastic pots.

Coir consists of different parts of the coconut husk, including the outside hair-like fiber, peat scrapped from the inside of the husk, plus chips from the crushed husk.

Coir is sometimes used in the greenhouse plant industry.

The absence of soil eliminates the need for fumigation. Coir is free of bacteria and fungal spores.

Centuries ago, Indian navigators who sailed the seas to Malaya, Java, China, and the Gulf of Arabia made ship ropes with coir.

“I believe coir can work very well in blackberry production,” Garcia said.

“Coir allows me to better control the crop compared to production in the soil. Soil has inherent properties which I cannot change. I can control every aspect with coir. The issue of fumigation is a non-issue in soil-less production.”