Vicky Boyd, staff writer
Vicky Boyd, staff writer

As I visit vegetable growers, some continue to lament the loss of the fumigant methyl bromide.

After early November visits with a number of southeastern Florida vegetable growers and grower-shippers who have successfully transitioned to an alternative fumigation program, I came away with a renewed sense of optimism.

Is the new system more complicated, and does it require more management and more precision? The answer is a resounding yes.

Methyl bromide was a single product and was forgiving, making up for even sloppy applications. The new three-way program — Telone for nematodes, chloropicrin for diseases and K-Pam for weeds — also requires use of new, lower permeable plastic bed mulch and crop fertility modifications.

But is the new program doable, and more importantly, is it profitable? The answer also is yes.

“Nothing is without its faults,” said John Mirusso, an application consultant, owner of Mirusso Enterprises Inc., Boynton Beach, Fla., and a former producer of row and specialty crops. “Whatever the program, we have to learn to farm with it.”

Use of methyl bromide, labeled an ozone depleting chemical, was phased out under the Montreal Protocol of 1987. As of 2005, its use was only allowed under emergency exemptions in developed countries.

The growers and grower-shippers with whom I talked were quick to credit Mirusso with their successful transitions.

“We’re so pleased to have him in the county. There’s nobody else with his talent and his skills that I’ve ever met,” said Johnny Whitworth, owner of Whitworth Farms Inc., Boynton Beach.

Whitworth said the three-way system is still undergoing tweaks to fine-tune it to his particular operation. But overall, his clean fields speak for themselves.

Any time you make a major change to a system, chances are other components also will be affected. And the fumigation program is no exception.

Because the new fumigants are put out at much lower rates than methyl bromide, the margins for error have shrunk.

Mirusso said to get the most out of the three-way program, you have to have uniform application up and down the rows and across each bed.

To do this, he introduced southeast Florida to rate controllers. Mirusso worked with representatives of Micro-Trak Systems Inc., Eagle Lake, Minn., to develop a software program for its controller specifically designed for southern Florida vegetable systems.

It changes rates when the tractor slows down or speeds up, and users at the end of the day can download the information to include in their required fumigation management plans.

Bruce Bedner of Bedner Farms, Boynton Beach, transitioned to the three-way system seven years ago when methyl bromide costs began to soar.

As he watched several tractors carefully orchestrate a fumigation application in a pepper field recently, Bedner summed up his experiences.

“It hasn’t hurt our yields.”

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