(April 8) In an 11th-hour reprieve, U.S. fruit and vegetables growers will be allowed to use limited volume of methyl bromide fumigant in 2005.

In a late March meeting in Montreal, the United Nations’ authority regulating ozone-depleting substances granted the U.S. and 10 other countries a temporary exemption from the Jan. 1 ban on methyl bromide for developed countries.

The group said 2005 methyl bromide production in the U.S. would be limited to 30% of 1991 levels, although some limited use of carryover inventories (5% of 1991 use) of the fumigant will be allowed.

“We’ve got this season and next season,” said Chip Hinton, executive director of the Plant City-based Florida Strawberry Growers Association. Methyl bromide is used as a soil fumigant for strawberries, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, sweet potatoes and other items, in addition to use as a quarantine treatment for high value produce imports and exports.

Some strawberry growers say the fumigant can make a 50% difference in yields compared with untreated fields.

U.S. growers had been fearful that the hundreds of hours of work and thousands of dollars spent on preparation of the 27-page critical use exemption application would be in vain.

Rodger Wasson, president of the California Strawberry Commission, Watsonville, said U.S. negotiators allowed Wasson to be recognized at the Montreal meeting to present industry’s concerns that the allocation was being reduced too quickly.

“I’ve never seen an occasion where the U.S. delegation has worked together better,” he said. “The State Department, EPA, USDA and the White House were really going all out for U.S. agriculture,” he said.

Besides the U.S., Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Greece, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom were granted exemptions.

11 DEVELOPED COUNTRIES

Under the agreement, the 11 developed countries have received exemptions to the phaseout totaling 13,438 metric tons of methyl bromide for 2005. The 2001 consumption figure for all 34 developed countries in 2001 was 23,488 tons.

The amounts, by country, are:

  • Australia, 145 metric tons.

  • Belgium, 47.


  • Canada, 56.


  • France, 407.


  • Greece, 186.


  • Italy, 2,133.


  • Japan, 284.


  • Portugal, 50.


  • Spain, 1,059.


  • United Kingdom, 129.


  • U.S., 8,942.



Under the Montreal Protocol, developed countries committed to reduce methyl bromide use by 25% of 1991 levels by 1999, 50% by 2001, 70% by 2003 and 100% by Jan. 1 of next year.

Developing countries were given a phaseout that began with a 2002 freeze (based on average use from 1998) and continues with elimination by 2015.

Hinton said the details on the allocation of methyl bromide to U.S. growers have not been finalized. However, he said that deciding who gets the allocation of methyl bromide will be difficult because historical use records are not complete.

“Everything else has been tough. Why shouldn’t this be?” he said.

Wasson said the California Strawberry Commission recommended that the EPA issue rules that lean heavily on the marketplace to allocate the available supply of methyl bromide.

ANOTHER ROUND

Both Wasson and Hinton said another round critical-use exemptions for 2006 and beyond may be necessary for growers, though some soil fumigant alternatives are in use and research is progressing on other options.

“If we are not able to come up with a solution, we need to work for a political solution,” Hinton said. “We have done this whole thing in good faith.”

Wasson said one disappointment in the process of the critical use exemption is the lack of multi-year exemptions.

“It is still going to take a huge amount of time. We have to redo this battle again for 2006 and 2007,” he said. He believes there will be room for a critical-use exemption available as long as industry is moving toward alternatives. In the case of California, nearly one-third of acreage has been treated with an alternative, he said.