Growers apply plastic tarps to fields after fumigation to hold the product in for best results.
Growers apply plastic tarps to fields after fumigation to hold the product in for best results.

More than 80 U.S. agricultural and commodity groups have signed a letter to Frank Lucas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, asking that Congress pass legislation to allow emergency use of the fumigant methyl bromide.

Production and use of methyl bromide, labeled an ozone-depleting chemical, was phased out under the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layers.

Under the agreement, methyl bromide could no longer be used or produced in developed countries after 2005 except for critical uses granted by parties to the protocol, in government-required quarantine and pre-shipment treatments, or for other “emergency uses.”

In the letter, the groups pointed out that the Montreal Protocol allows for production and use of up to 20 metric tons of methyl bromide for each emergency without international approval. But the U.S. has never implemented the exemption, even though growers are facing “dire” pest problems, according to the letter.

Barry Bedwell, president of the Fresno, Calif.-based California Fresh Fruit Association, said the product needs to remain available for just such situations.

“I think in the absence of an effective alternative to concede the situation where we don’t have access to methyl bromide under any circumstance would not be a wise decision for our members,” Bedwell said.

The association continues to support research into finding an effective alternative, but so far a methyl bromide replacement has been elusive, he said.

“Until we find that alternative, I think it makes sense to ask Congress to legislate and direct the USDA to allow the emergency use of methyl bromide,” Bedwell said.

The Sacramento-based California Farm Bureau Federation also signed the letter and supports keeping the fumigant available, said Josh Rolph, director of the federal policy division.

“A lot of research has been done looking at other chemicals and other options to control pests and diseases,” Rolph said. “And in this case, methyl bromide is just the best possible chemical for certain uses.”

For potato growers, retaining emergency use of methyl bromide could be a savior, said Ryan Krabill, senior director of legislative and governmental affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based National Potato Council.

“Failure to eradicate pests like the pale cyst nematode can have widely felt consequences to the overall health of the U.S. potato industry,” he said. “The availability of methyl bromide for emergency situations provides growers a valuable tool on the occasions it is needed.”