Rachel Kang Northwood HS 10th Grade
On average, strawberry fields consist of 66,500 pounds per acre of strawberries, making these delicious red berries the largest produce in California. Inevitably, farmers use certain chemicals to enhance the overall growth and state of strawberries, but these chemicals can damage the entire strawberry industry.
One such harmful chemical is methyl bromide, a fumigant used to destroy soil, weeds, and insects. The concentrations of the fumigant, methyl bromide, are increasing in the atmosphere and affecting overall agricultural production in California. Furthermore, this compound has been diminishing the ozone layer as a result of constant agricultural use. Methyl bromide use was first restricted in 1992-1993 by the Department of Pesticide Regulation to protect workers and others near fumigation sites, but concerns over the potential impact on strawberry production grew due to the negative effect it would have on the environment. This is why organic strawberries have been a more favorable option to consumers who are concerned with harming the environment. In 2017, 3,300 acres of organic strawberries had been planted, which represents 12 percent of the total acres of strawberries. Organic strawberries are more sustainable to agricultural tests, healthier, and keeps consumers and the fruit toxin-free.
The harm of methyl bromide comes from how hazardous it can be for humans to breathe in. This led farmers to use other chemicals that operate in a similar manner. Chloropicrin, a chemical compound in insecticides, was recently used by farmers after they discovered the negative consequences of methyl bromide. However, chloropicrin also had harmful effects of its own, including fatal damage to skin, eyes, and lungs as well as damage to the respiratory and central nervous systems. Another alternative is phosphine. Like chloropicrin, phosphine harms the circulatory, nervous, respiratory, and gastrointestinal systems, specifically the gastrointestinal tract, liver, and kidney.
Since 2005, when methyl bromide was included in an international treaty called the Montreal Protocol to protect the stratospheric ozone layer, it was banned by developed countries. The treaty allows limited use of methyl bromide for certain crops, but some of these restrictions are gone and the remainder may expire soon.
Although harmful agricultural chemicals are banned outright, agriculturalists are looking for alternatives that consider the environmental effects while helping California maintain its agricultural production. Researchers from various UC institutions and the USDA are searching for these better alternatives, such as compounds that use no toxins (e.g. steam sterilization and chemical disinfectants).
<Rachel Kang Northwood HS 10th Grade