Conventional strawberry crops could lose in a fight against smog.
The Los Angeles Times reported that growers in Ventura County may not be able to plant thousands of acres of strawberries and other crops this spring in order to comply with a state pesticide regulation slated to go into effect today.
Smog is a major issue in the Los Angeles area. The LA Times said that the U.S. District Court in Sacramento ordered the state to reduce pesticide emissions by 20% from 1991 levels in areas that violated national health standards for smog. Facing a court-ordered deadline, the Department of Pesticide Regulation is targeting the use of poisonous gases that are injected into fields to kill insects, weeds and pathogens before crops are planted.
Though other crops, such as tomatoes and bell peppers, are sprayed with methyl bromide, metam-sodium and other fumigants, strawberry growers are the biggest users of the chemicals. After the fumigants are sprayed, they evaporate from the soil, and gases are released into the air, contributing to smog. The fumes are carcinogenic and can cause respiratory problems and other reactions from farm workers or people who live nearby.
Ventura County growers, hit particularly hard by this because crop acreage and pesticide use have soared here over the past few years, could have to stop using fumigants on 5,800 to 7,500 acres, about one-third of the approximately 20,000 fumigated acres, according to state officials.
Some farmers will have to make major decisions about what to do next. Farmer Edgar Terry told the paper, "I know for a fact we will have to reevaluate all of our ranch lands and decide which ones to keep in strawberry production, which ones to go organic and which ones to go fallow." He also suggested that the new rules may force more growers to farm in western Arizona, Mexico or other areas.
The paper explains that converting to organic methods is expensive, and it takes three years for a field to be certified as organic. Strawberries are the last crop to be grown on a large scale in Ventura County, and growers say switching to non-fumigated crops doesn't make financial sense for them because they don't yield enough profits to justify the high cost of leasing land.
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