Many strawberry farmers in California have relied on methyl bromide because it is considered “the most effective chemical to control soil-borne pathogens and weeds.” But using this pesticide also comes at a cost: the pesticide is hazardous to humans and the environment, namely because of its negative impact on the ozone layer. Although these consequences have been known since 1987, and its’ use has been restricted in the United States, California farmers continue to depend on the pesticide legally as a result of EPA’s “critical use exemption.” To qualify for the “critical use exemption,” methyl bromide users must believe they have “no technically and economically feasible alternatives” and fill out the required application.
However, California strawberry farmers who continue to use methyl bromide need to consider alternatives to this pesticide because it can no longer be used after this year. Some California famers are considering going organic because of the profitability of organic produce, but they worry about the increase in costs associated with going organic while not reaping the benefits during the requisite transition period and the lack of affordable land in the area.
One option that addresses both issues is for strawberry growers in the Bay Area to acquire land that has a conservation easement attached to it. Many NGO’s, including Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST), purchase land and resell it subject to a conservation easement in order to ensure that the land continues to be open space and undeveloped. The restrictions placed on the land allow land users, including farmers, to purchase or rent it at a reduced price. Other organic farmers have utilized this approach and find it beneficial and cost-efficient. Acquiring land at a reduced price will also lessen the financial issues associated with transitioning to organic farming because money is being saved on land-use costs. Strawberry farmers who are considering going organic should work with NGO’s in order to secure affordable land in the Bay Area.
-Courtney Eggleston, SCU Law 3L