State-Appointed Panel to Consider Fumigant Alternatives
April 24, 2012
Gov. Jerry Brown's been ruthless about slashing redundant committees, but there's still a bit of money in the bank for researching non-fumigant alternatives to growing strawberries. The Brown Administration's proposed budget includes $500,000 for grants the California Department of Pesticide Regulation can award for researching non-fumigant ag practices.
But DPR's not waiting around for budget politics. Director Brian Leahy today announced he'll chair a 10-member working group, funded by DPR fees, to work in concert with the California Strawberry Commission on researching alternatives to fumigants.
Leahy announced a three-year $500,000 grant to the Strawberry Commission in March, which will fund research on farming in substrates like peat moss and ground-up rice hulls, which don’t require fumigation to kill pests that live in soil.
The work group will begin meeting this summer to developing a five-year plan for farming without fumigants by late fall. “Our work group has a tall task," Leahy said in a statement. "We want a full spectrum of production methods that control soil-borne diseases, weeds and other pests while protecting human health and the environment."
That task is made all the more pressing by the phase-out of methyl bromide, which is scheduled to be complete by 2014, and Arysta LifeScience's decision last month to pull methyl iodide, which had been developed as a drop-in replacement for methyl bromide, from the U.S. market.
“California’s strawberry industry urgently needs practical and cost-effective ways to grow strawberries without soil fumigants,” Leahy said. “It’s imperative we speed up the timetable for more production tools in the face of tougher fumigation restrictions and urban development near agricultural land.”
The group members include locals Steve Fennimore, a weed specialist at UC Davis Extension in Salinas; Watsonville strawberry grower Rod Koda; Watsonville-based Strawberry Commission research director Dan Legard; and UC Santa Cruz professor Carol Shennan, who directs the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems.
The other members are Bill Chism, an EPA biologist from Washington, D.C.; ag economist Karen Klonsky; Ann Katten of the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation in Sacramento; USDA plant pathologist Greg Browne; Pam Marrone, founder and CEO of Marrone Bio Innovations in Davis; and Fresno-based ag consultant Gary Obenauf.
“There is so much potential for positive change that will benefit both farmers and agricultural communities, and it’s encouraging that both the Department of Pesticide Regulation and the strawberry growers are embracing the idea of change,” Susan Kegley, consulting scientist at Pesticide Action Network, said in a statement. “This effort will help California maintain its leadership in innovation with new farming techniques.”