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The future of fumigationqrcode

Aug. 8, 2012

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Just look at how much has been invested in trying to replace it, says Michael Allan, who recently joined Isagro USA as product manager, fumigants. “Ag, as an industry — I’m not talking about private companies’ R&D — has spent $400 million on finding a methyl bromide replacement since it became a part of the Montreal Protocol in 1995,” he says.

In 1991, U.S. growers used 58 million pounds of methyl bromide. It was to be completely phased out in the U.S. by 2000, but grower groups pleaded for critical use exemptions to the ban, saying that there was no replacement. It seemed a replacement had been found when methyl iodide was developed. Allan has a unique view of that story, as he worked for the company that submitted the registration for methyl iodide, with the product name Midas, for many years. Allan joined the company, now known as Arysta LifeScience, in 1998, four years before registration was submitted. Back then, in 2002, it was the first new fumigant in more than a quarter-century, says Allan.

However, though methyl iodide received federal registration in 2007, it couldn’t crack the critical California market where growers in the state have traditionally used a lot of fumigants for high-dollar crops like strawberries. Finally, in April 2011, the company received registration in California. Allan points out this time frame makes claims made by groups critical of the product, like the Pesticide Action Network, that the company had some sort of inside track seem bogus. “Nothing in that (nine years of regulatory review) says special treatment,” he says, “and that’s what the company was accused of.”

People often don’t realize how good something is until they don’t have it any more. Such is the case with methyl bromide.

The approval came with a huge host of restrictions and still very little methyl iodide was used. This past spring, Arysta finally pulled the plug on Midas in the U.S. By then Allan was gone, having left Arysta for another job in July of 2011.

The editors of GrowingProduce.com recently caught up with him to ask a few questions. Answers have been paraphrased.

Q: Several groups, such as the California Strawberry Commission, said they were taken aback when Midas was pulled off the market. What happened?

Allan: The decision came down to whether Arysta could afford to keep financially supporting the registration. It typically costs $50 million to register a new active ingredient and Midas was well north of that. Not only were there very few applications of the product, as growers were waiting to see how the situation shook out, but there was all the pressure from the protest groups. They had representatives calling key ag counties like Monterey daily to check on methyl iodide applications. Registrants must follow the letter of the law, but opponents don’t face such restrictions. Not only that, but there was legal action pending to challenge the California registration.

Q: Now that strawberry growers won’t have a so-called drop-in replacement for methyl bromide, how will their farming practices change?

Allan: Their practices have been changing ever since methyl bromide was targeted, such as the implementation of VIF and TIF (virtually and totally impermeable films). Efforts to maintain current fumigants are being stepped up. Pests that used to be secondary are becoming problematic. We never saw diseases such as charcoal rot with methyl bromide. Now it is not only becoming a significant disease, it is affecting growers’ ability to farm. There is no easy transition in any crop. For example, breeding is an answer, but that’s usually just for one pest and takes years. Maybe the question to ask is: “What does California look like without a $40 billion ag industry? And are we willing to risk finding out?”

Q: What should growers know about the future of fumigants?

Allan: As a registrant, we are expending every effort to find alternatives they can use, but it takes years. I hate to tell growers you have to be patient, but we have to make sure a fumigant meets their needs and meets all the requirements of the regulatory process. Growers are going to have to look at all their other practices because they don’t have what they could get from that single application of methyl bromide. It will take tenacity for us all to be successful.

Q: Isagro recently sent out a press release about a “revolutionary” new fumigant product. What can you tell us about it?

Allan: Now called IRF135, it’s a synthetically produced biopesticide that is effective on weeds, soil diseases, nematodes, and insects. It can be applied through both shank and drip. We anticipate submitting registration this month, when the product might also be named. Typically, there will be a 13- to 15-month review (through the biopesticide branch of the EPA), then it would go through the registration process in individual states. It may be first available in target states at the end of 2013, with California and Florida registration likely in 2014. It’s the company’s first fumigant submission.

Q: Why do you say it’s revolutionary?

Allan: As a biopesticide, it will likely have a more favorable end use label than standard fumigants while still delivering broad spectrum pest control.

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