Team recognized for helping farmers transition from methyl bromide

Date posted: April 22, 2011

Media Contact: Frank Louws, director, National Science Foundation Center for Integrated Pest Management, 919-513-8178 or frank_louws@ncsu.edu

A group of North Carolina State University faculty members has been recognized for helping farmers stay in business during the phase-out of a popular fumigant.

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences faculty members were recognized with a North Carolina State Grange Search for Excellence award. Jimmy Gentry, Grange president, presented the award April 14 at a joint meeting of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service Foundations boards in Raleigh.

The team was recognized for efforts over the last eight years to help North Carolina fruit and vegetable growers find alternatives to the pesticide methyl bromide.

Methyl bromide is a broad-use fumigant with ozone-depleting properties. The pesticide was scheduled to be phased out by Jan. 1, 2005, except for amounts allowed under critical use exemptions.

Growers did not have a pesticide to substitute for methyl bromide, which controlled diseases, weeds and nematodes. Without methyl bromide, many farmers feared they would lose the ability to efficiently grow their crops. Growers of strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, melons, cucumbers and squash were especially concerned, as methyl bromide was their primary method of pest control.

Because finding alternatives often involved trials over several seasons, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allowed limited production and import of methyl bromide for growers to use after the 2005 phase-out date under critical use exemptions. Each year since 2005, the extension team applied for the exemptions on behalf of growers in North Carolina and other southeastern states based on the lack of technically or economically feasible alternatives to methyl bromide.

Comprised of plant pathologists, weed scientists, horticulturists, an agricultural economist, agricultural engineer and entomologist, the N.C. State team tested combinations of pest management strategies, both chemical and non-chemical. Because no direct substitute for methyl bromide was available, the team encouraged growers to practice integrated pest management and combine chemical and non-chemical techniques. Integrated pest management, or IPM, is a science-based system of pest management based on the biology of the pest or disease.

The team helped growers adopt new cropping methods. Some growers used a variety of different pest control methods. Other growers changed their cropping systems completely; some even transitioned to organic production.

Present at the ceremony were Dr. Katie Jennings, research assistant professor of horticultural science, Dr. Frank Louws, professor of plant pathology and director of the National Science Foundation Center for Integrated Pest Management; Dr. David Monks, assistant director of the N.C. Agricultural Research Service; Dr. Zvezdana Pesic-VanEsbroeck, director of N.C. State’s Micropropagation Unit; and Steve Toth, Integrated Pest Management coordinator. Also recognized were Dr. Gina Fernandez, associate professor of horticultural science; Dr. Garry Grabow, assistant professor of biological and agricultural engineering; Dr. Barclay Poling, professor of horticultural science, and Dr. Charles Safley, professor of agricultural and resource economics.

Team members delved into research of each pest, disease and weed that methyl bromide had controlled, filling in knowledge gaps in the industry. Fernandez focused on alternative farming systems. Grabow trained extension agents on irrigation technology. Jennings and Monks researched weed management. Pesic-VanEsbroeck provided plants for research. Louws investigated soil-borne pests and other diseases and conducted farming systems research. Toth managed the critical use exemption applications. Poling evaluated various fumigants and other planting systems in strawberries, and Safley provided information about the economics of different crop management approaches.

The N.C. State Grange Search for Excellence Awards promote and identify professional excellence within all facets of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. There are five team awards and eight individual awards. The group received an award in the specialist category.

Written by: Rosemary Hallberg, communication specialist, National Science Foundation Center for Integrated Pest Management, 919.513.8182 or rhallberg@sripmc.org

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