Valuable crop depends on use of soil fumigants
By CECILIA PARSONS
For the Capital Press
The California Strawberry Commission will partner with the state's Department of Pesticide Regulation on a research project involving fumigant alternatives.
The $500,000 three-year project will explore strawberry production in materials other than soil.
DPR's new director, Brian Leahy, said the project shows support for environmentally friendly ways to control pests while providing strawberry growers with additional tools to help them be economically viable.
Strawberries are one of the state's most valuable crops, but growers also depend heavily on fumigants to control weeds and soil pathogens. The strawberry nursery industry is especially vulnerable to soil pests.
The phaseout of methyl bromide due to ozone depletion led to intense research into alternatives in recent years. One of the alternatives, methyl iodide, was cleared for use by DPR last year, but its use has been protested by environmental groups.
Leahy made the announcement at the Monterey Bay Academy in Watsonville where research on alternatives to fumigant pesticides has been under way for several years. The project will build on previous research to develop nonchemical alternatives to fumigants.
Strawberry Commission Research Director Dan Legard said the research initiated four years ago looked at the potential of growing strawberries in substrate. The partnership with DPR will help get the trials out to fields for farm-scale testing, he said.
The governor's support for more environmentally friendly farming practices is reflected in his proposed budget that includes a $713,000 increase for DPR to support research for fumigant alternatives. If approved the first funding cycle would be in fiscal 2013-14.
The proposed fumigant alternatives research grants are in addition to Pest Management Alliance Grants. Since 1998, DPR has awarded nearly $6 million to more than 60 projects that used integrated pest management strategies to reduce pesticide use. IPM combines natural and preventative strategies that focus on long-term pest prevention and monitoring and pose low risk to people and the environment.
The research project and grants are subsidized with special funds generated by fees on pesticide sales.
Leahy said the project also advances DPR's mission to foster reduced risk pest management in agricultural and urban settings.
For more information on California Strawberry Commission, a state marketing order, go to the web site www.calstrawberry.com.