Red. Ripe. Delicious. That’s how you might describe the baskets of strawberries you see at your local farmer’s market or neighborhood store. What you don’t see are the green opportunities behind the berry – both environmental and economic – long before the fruit lands on your shortcake. And farmers say this deserves some attention.
With growing concerns about the use of cancer-causing strawberry pesticide methyl iodide, some farmers are calling on federal officials to provide better guidance on how to grow the greenest berry possible. In particular, farmers call into question the use of fumigants, including methyl iodide, used to kill soil pests when growing strawberry seedlings before they are sold to the farm where berries grow on mature plants. Methyl iodide is a likely groundwater contaminant, and can cause cancer and miscarriages when airborne.
“Eliminating the use of pesticide fumigants is good for farmers, protects our health and creates jobs by clearing the way for innovation," said Larry Jacobs, owner of Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo in Pescadero, California.
Clear guidance around existing rules will spur innovation. Markets need clear signals to work well, and right now, the rules aren’t clear. —James Rickert of Prather Ranch
With clarity around existing rules, especially descriptions of which techniques are prohibited, farmers can develop new tools to grow healthier organic berries. And these emerging tools -including steam, solarization, and anaerobic disinfestation – control pests and create a stronger agroecosystem without the use of pesticides.
Farmers press for clear rules
Organic agriculture is already an economic engine in states like California, with over 3,500 organic farms, 150,000 acres in organic production and more opportunities on the horizon. Farmers assert that chemicals like methyl iodide jeopardize the state's sustainable and organic agricultural economy.
“Federal regulators have undermined small businesses that employ cutting-edge technology to produce organic strawberries,” explained James Rickert of Prather Ranch and an organic strawberry nursery grower in Palo Cedro, California. “Clear guidance around existing rules will spur innovation. Markets need clear signals to work well, and right now, the rules aren’t clear.”
In a letter filed last Friday with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farmers made their case:
As organic farmers, we face many challenges — both on the farm and off — growing the best product possible and keeping it affordable…. we believe that the National Organic Program must act with some urgency to provide guidance to organic growers and certifiers and eliminate the use of these fumigants. With the prospect of methyl iodide use on the horizon, especially in California, this concern seems even greater.
Join farmers » Send a message to Governor Jerry Brown that a key first step in driving organic farming innovation is to take methyl iodide off the shelf.