June 11, 2015

“No Fumigants” by 2020 in California

The number of efficacious fumigants currently available and the flexibility to use them in California is rapidly diminishing in key agricultural settings and impacting operations.  While California has the country’s most stringent fumigant use restrictions to protect human health and the environment, many regulators and activists fail to recognize how rigid and demanding the current registration and oversight process is for all crop protection products in this state and continue to communicate they are not a viable option.  Many efforts are aimed at eliminating them by 2020.  So, what is the future of fumigants?

Western Growers has a history of advocating for the registration and safe use of crop protection tools that are critical to producers, including fumigants.  However, the use and availability of the few remaining fumigants is questionable.  WG has been persistently communicating that producers with high pest pressure may not have viable alternatives to the appropriate use of fumigants for pest control.  During a WG Science & Technology webinar hosted in February 2015, Jim Wells, President of the Environmental Solutions Group, provided an overview of the regulatory environment associated with four key fumigants.  If your operation has utilized methyl bromide, chloropicrin, metam sodium or 1-3 D/telone, you may want to think about the changes and challenges associated with the use of these fumigants.

While methyl bromide has been phased out, 1-3D/telone is under township caps (which limits the number of applications and pounds/application), chloropicrin and metam sodium are the only options available to many growers with changing mitigation measures and restrictions.  Most of the use restrictions of these fumigants are associated with their designation as Toxic Air Contaminants (TACs).  The rest of this article provides a summary about the status on the use of these fumigants based on the webinar update earlier this year.

In 2005, methyl bromide was phased out after being declared an ozone depleting substance in 1992, some very critical uses (CUEs) remain under the Montreal Protocol, but they are reviewed and updated every year.  However, the Environmental Protection Agency decided to discontinue most of the CUEs in the United States in 2013.  At this moment, 2016 will be the last allowed CUE for the production of strawberries and during pre-plant activities.  Currently considering that the Montreal Protocol allows for an emergency use exemption of 20 metric tons per event, the ag industry consortium is pursuing federal legislation to define an “emergency use” and to place this process under the United Stated Department of Agriculture.

From 2011 to 2014, the use of 1-3 D/Telone increased, in particular in strawberries.  However, the total usage is still lower than the total used in 1989.  In 2012, producers of tree/vines, vegetables and strawberries were the three top users of this fumigant.  Currently, applications are limited by a township cap system.  EPA defines a township as 36 sections of 640 acres or 23,040 acres.  Currently, applications of 1-3 D are limited to 350 townships per year.  The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) is currently conducting a risk assessment to consider new available data.  The existing California management plan for 1-3 D is about 13 years old.

In 2010, mitigation measures adopted as permit guidance dictated the use of metam sodium.  Some of these measures included buffer zones, post application water seals and acreage restrictions.  In 2012, the labels (at the federal level) were reviewed and additional measures were included.  DPR has harmonized permit guidance with revised labels.  Based on 2012 data, metam sodium was widely used in several crops, two major ones include: tomatoes and carrots.

A risk assessment for chloropicrin was conducted about 10 years ago.  The FDA released new labels in 2012, and DPR developed mitigation measures from 2011 to 2015.  Mitigation actions include a maximum daily acreage (EPA allows 160 while DPR only allows 40 in a 24 hours period), minimum buffer zones (based on the type of film used), overlapping buffer zones (acreages may be combined), notification/monitoring (DPR is more specific) and buffer zone credits (also impacted by the type of tarp used).  Revised labels are expected in 2016.  Users are subject to the most stringent requirements either at the state or federal level.

What should you expect this year and what is WG doing?

DPR is currently proposing new regulations related to pesticide applications near schools and also regarding fumigant notification.  DPR hosted a workshop April 9, 2015, in Sacramento to allow impacted parties with an opportunity to share thoughts about the feasibility of these proposed regulations.  Upcoming workshops are expected before a proposed regulation is released this fall.  WG continues to work with industry partners and government agencies to ensure the continued and safe use of these crop protection tools.  WG staff has provided feedback to regulatory bodies and continues to communicate that fumigant safety should be based on science and risk as opposed to emotional or personal agendas.  Western Growers is engaged with regulatory officials and will continue to be engaged.  However, we encourage you feedback and any suggestions about other efforts or activities we should pursue.  What are your thoughts?  Join this conversation by providing your feedback in our blog: http://www.wga.com/sci-tech/agknowledge