Tokyo-based Arysta LifeScience suspended sales of the fumigant, branded MIDAS, effective March 20. The move was based on its economic viability in the U.S., according to a news release.
“We had just one grower use it last fall, on a test corner of a remote field in Santa Maria,” said Carolyn O’Donnell, communications director for the Watsonville-based commission. “The longer-term implication is that it’s the loss of a tool. Methyl iodide was not a one-size-fits-all, but there are places where it could have been used but won’t be available now.”
“We are concerned about the larger implications of this decision,” commission president Mark Murai said in a statement. “It underscores the ongoing and critical need for farmers to have a range of effective tools for protecting plants from pests and diseases, and maintain healthy soils.”
Methyl iodide has been controversial in California. Two groups, Earthjustice and California Rural Legal Assistance, challenged the state’s approval of the toxic fumigant in a lawsuit that went to a one-day trial in Oakland in January. The judge is expected to rule by the end of March.
Use exemptions on methyl bromide, long linked to ozone depletion, run out in 2014. Other pesticide fumigants in use include metam sodium, Chloropicrin and Telone. The California Strawberry Commission has long supported development of alternatives to fumigation. One example is soilless growing media like peat and coconut coir, the subject of a three-year study funded for $500,000 earlier this month by the state Department of Pesticide Regulation.
The Arysta decision raises questions about whether methyl bromide use exemptions should continue, O’Donnell said.
“The phaseout of methyl bromide is based on the assumption by the EPA that methyl iodide was coming on,” she said. “So it will be interesting to see what happens at the EPA level. We’re not holding our breath on anything.”
Nevertheless, methyl iodide had limitations in California, where it’s common for strawberries to be grown near cities.
“A lot of locations were excluded just because they were adjacent to sensitive sites,” O’Donnell said, adding she wasn’t surprised Arysta attributed its decision to economics.