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An analysis of the strawberry agromarket

If you’ve ever grown strawberries in a strawberry planter, you know they’re pretty susceptible to fungus and insect damage. It turns out, this is a serious problem for strawberry agriculture. As this article points out, government regulations regarding the use of the widely-used fumigant methyl bromide are threatening the volume strawberry growers can produce in the near future.

Methyl bromide is a gas used to suppress soil-borne pests, fungi, and nematodes in order to preserve US strawberry crops, 80% of which come from California. Unfortunately, methyl bromide is also an ozone-depleting gas – in the presence of sunlight it initiates a radical reaction that damages our atmosphere. Because of this, the 1990 Montreal Protocol mandated its phase-out by 2005. Growers in California have continued to use it in reduced amounts according to “critical use exemptions” from the EPA, but the current EPA filings suggest the exemptions will end in 2016.

“Unfortunately, methyl bromide is also an ozone-depleting gas – in the presence of sunlight it initiates a radical reaction that damages our atmosphere.”

This is a perfect example of the struggle in the agricultural industry today. So much of what we eat is dependent on an infrastructure that was put in place in the infancy of environmental regulations, before we had a good understanding of the impact our chemistry can have on the world around us. Currently, only 20% of the strawberry industry practices organic growing methods, and it’s unclear whether these practices can be scaled up to maintain US production volume. “Slow food” is a great goal to strive for, but we need to hasten the infrastructure supporting it to make it a national solution.

Methyl Bromide is less than ideal for slowing ozone layer depletion.
Methyl Bromide is less than ideal for slowing ozone layer depletion. 

The need for improvements in sustainable agricultural practices is enormous, but despite this, they lag behind green initiatives in other industries.  There are two reasons for this: one, agriculture is an entrenched industry that must continue to feed the US population in real time and can’t afford the research lag; and two, as environmental regulations grow in complexity, it takes longer for potential solutions to be evaluated and tested on an effective scale. We can’t ignore either part of the equation – interrupting our food supply is not an option, nor is continuing to damage the environment.

The status quo is convenient, but we live in a post-convenience world. We can only drive agricultural change by increasing our efforts to develop new harvest and storage methods. The more of us working on the problem, the quicker we can solve it.  It probably wouldn’t hurt to give the EPA a helping hand as well – can somebody work on getting them some more funding or something?

About the Author

Aidan Mouat

Article written by Aidan Mouat, CEO, Hazel Technologies LLC. 

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