Alternatives to Methyl Bromide

In 1999, SAREP launched a specialized grants program targeting alternatives to methyl bromide. SAREP supported six biologically based projects aimed at evaluating the effectiveness of several alternatives to methyl bromide within California farming systems.

The UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SAREP) received $1,000,000 from the California State legislature to support research and implementation of alternatives to methyl bromide. SAREP developed a competitive grants program to award these funds and supported a range of projects aimed at the development, evaluation, and/or demonstration of alternatives to methyl bromide as a pre-plant soil fumigant or postharvest commodity treatment.

Funded Projects

Background:

Methyl bromide is a broad-spectrum fumigant that is widely used to control insect, pathogen, nematode, weed and rodent pests. Approximately 90% of the methyl bromide use in California is for pre-plant soil fumigation to control soil-borne pathogens and pests principally in strawberries, nursery crops, grapes, and tree fruits and nuts. Postharvest commodity treatment accounts for about 5-10% of the methyl bromide use and is directed largely at insects of nuts, cherries, grapes, raisins, and imported materials. Structural fumigation accounts for most of the remainder of the methyl bromide use in California.

Methyl bromide has been identified as an ozone-depleting substance, with an ozone-depleting potential of 0.6. Under the Clean Air Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has prohibited the production and importation of methyl bromide starting January 1, 2005. In addition, the United States has joined 140 other nations in signing the Montreal Protocol, which in 1994 froze production and importation of methyl bromide at 1991 levels, and which requires use to be reduced in developed countries by 25% in 1999, 50% in 2001, 70% in 2003 and 100% in 2005.

Thus, this widely used pesticide for the production and export of high value crops and commodities in California will be lost within the next few years. Several potential chemical and non-chemical alternatives to methyl bromide have been identified nationally and internationally and some of these alternatives are currently being evaluated in California. However, none of the alternatives have been adequately shown to be as effective or economical as methyl bromide within California farming systems. Therefore, there is an urgent need to develop and evaluate effective, economical alternatives to the agricultural use(s) of methyl bromide as a pre-plant soil fumigant and postharvest commodity and quarantine treatment.

Process:

The California state budget was signed in September 1998 and included an augmentation to the Department of Pesticide Regulation with the intent that these funds would be transferred to UC. By the end of October, SAREP, with technical input from experts knowledgeable about methyl bromide alternatives, developed a Request for Proposals (RFP) describing the program goals, award criteria, required proposal contents, and the granting process. In addition, SAREP named an external review committee composed of 10 national experts on methyl bromide alternatives and identified additional members of its technical and public advisory committees to assist in the proposal reviewing process. The RFP was released in early November 1998. The RFP describes a two-stage process: a two-page pre-proposal due December 11, 1998 that describes the target cropping system and pests and outlines the general approach, and, a full proposal due February 19, 1999. Preproposals are not mandatory for the submission of full proposals.  Experts reviewed the 24 pre-proposals and provided SAREP with comments regarding how well the proposed projects met the criteria in the RFP. This information was sent to the applicants on January 20, 1999. Full proposals were reviewed by the panel of national experts as well as additional members of SAREP’s advisory committees. SAREP’s Director made final funding decisions based on the recommendations of these reviewers and announced the projects to receive funding in April 1999.  Six projects were funded for up to three years.

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