The recent announcement from Arysta LifeScience that it was immediately suspending sales of the fumigant Midas (methyl iodide) in the U.S. was really no surprise.
It ends one of the most polarizing sagas in the long history of California’s go-it-alone pesticide registration process. Pitting the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, Arysta, politicians, growers, commodity groups and radical environmentalists against each other resulted in a no-win for all.
Tim Johnson, president of the California Rice Commission, offered insight into the tale in a recent blog entitled: Shame on Arysta … Shame on Us.
Success in U.S. agriculture is hard earned. It’s an even greater achievement in California. The realities of our constrained resources, highly populated state and rigorous public dialogue make farming here — well, challenging.
Certainly California farmers need new crop protection materials. We see it firsthand in our industry with growers in other states able to use two to three times the number of registered pesticides we have in California.
However we also need to be realists. The science and regulatory process aside, the registration of methyl iodide in California was a mistake from a political and public perspective. The registrant understandably wanted to generate sales and meet the need created by the ill–advised phase-out of methyl bromide. They pushed too hard. Industry desperately needed new fumigants — we were co-opted.
The result is a smoking crater. Out of this crater all future pesticide registrations and re-registrations must climb.
When we needed leadership from the company we got none. When agriculture should have provided the same, we turned our backs. Either sector should have made a full assessment and acted in the long–term best interest of California agriculture.
Shame on all of us.
After Arystra spent millions of dollars and DPR was bombarded with thousands of protest letters, Midas was registered last year with some of the most draconian application mandates imaginable, no doubt a major reason there were only six commercial applications of Midas in California on only 15 acres total.
Arysta officials, of course, ballyhooed methyl iodide’s safety record of 17,000 acres of use across the Southeast “without a single safety incident.” That is equivalent to the miniscule California use.
It was clearly an economic decision to pull Midas from the U.S. market. It was DOA from the beginning of the EPA’s initial registration in 2007 due to the controversy that surrounded it.
Midas was heralded as a substitute for methyl bromide. Many proposed replacements before it carried the same billing without commercial success.
The California Strawberry Commission has poured more than $12 million into research looking at alternatives to methyl bromide — also without significant success.
DPR recently announced it will pump $500,000 into a three-year project focusing on growing strawberries in peat, tree bark or other non-soil substances that are disease-free.
That will result in headlines — but doubtful commercial adaptability.
I don’t know if Midas was our last hope for a commercially viable methyl bromide alternative, but it certainly was a textbook example of how not to register a new pesticide in California and the U.S.