EPA is expected to make a decision in 2007 on the re-registration of methyl bromide as a pre-plant soil fumigant.

Frank Sances, a crop consultant with Pacific Ag Research in San Luis Obispo, Calif., said methyl bromide has become the “elephant in the living room” for California strawberry growers, but one that will definitely need to be addressed as they put together their crop production strategies moving forward.

Methyl bromide is being phased out under the international Montreal Protocol. However, small amounts of the fumigant will still be available under critical use exemptions for special circumstances and certain crops, including limited acreage of strawberries.

The EPA review is being conducted separately of the climate issue to consider worker safety and bystander exposure concerns and could further affect the future registration or use of methyl bromide. In the meantime, the strawberry industry and other commodity groups are working feverishly to develop alternatives, Sances said.

“The methyl bromide issue is starting to take affect,” he said. “People are very concerned at this point about how the new products are going to fit with the ubiquitous use of methyl bromide, which is all things to all people.”

EPA is currently assessing risks and will be developing risk management decisions for five soil fumigant pesticides: chloropicrin, dazomet, metam sodium, methyl bromide, and a new active ingredient, iodomethane. Risk management decisions for a sixth soil fumigant, 1,3-D (Telone) were completed in 1998 and will be used for comparative purposes.

“We’re all anxious to get alternatives on line and DPR (California Department of Pesticide Regulation along with EPA) has to take its time to make sure we don’t let a monster out in its place. Everyone’s trying to do the right thing and work together but there are sometimes opposing interests,” Sances said.

He said iodomethane has strong attributes for pest control similar to methyl bromide. He also said that innovative application techniques for Telone should factor into possibly revising township caps to enable more use of the product.

“The township caps have a good opportunity to be reevaluated as science becomes more refined,” Sances said.