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Vegetable growers get methyl bromide reprieve

By Brad Haire
University of Georgia

Georgia vegetable growers will be allowed to use methyl bromide for at least one extra year.

Farmers will be allowed to use methyl bromide for squash, cantaloupe, cucumber, eggplant, pepper, tomato and strawberry in 2005, said Terry Kelley, a horticulturist with the University of Georgia Extension Service.

Vegetable growers use it to sterilize planting beds before planting their crops under plastic film.

Except for critical-use exemptions, methyl bromide is slated to be phased out by the end of 2004. It is being banned by the Montreal Protocol, a treaty signed by the United States and more than 160 other countries to control ozone-depleting substances.

The UGA Extension Service vegetable team helped the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association compile and prepare a critical use exemption application for methyl bromide. No viable alternative has been developed, they said, for certain vegetables.

They submitted the application through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to the United Nations Environment Program's Methyl Bromide Technical Options Committee. The exemption is for 2005 only.

An application for 2006 has already been submitted.

"This is the most critical thing to the vegetable industry right now," Kelley said. "It would certainly change the industry if we didn't have methyl bromide."

Georgia vegetable growers have already cut back on the amount of methyl bromide they use. But if they had to stop using it cold turkey, Kelley said, they'd lose $120 million in annual production.

Georgia's vegetable crop is worth about $680 million annually.

(Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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