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Q: What Does Methyl Iodide Do?
On April 28, 2011, Harry B. Williams asked:
What’s up with the methyl iodide in California? What does it do? I know it’s a replacement for a now banned pesticide, but exactly what purpose does it serve. What happens to the availability of strawberries if it isn’t used? Is there another product available.
Answer to: What Does Methyl Iodide Do?
Methyl iodide replaced methyl bromide as the soil fumigant of choice (since the methyl bromide was banned). It served to sterilize the soil so that fungi and other organisms that are pathogenic to strawberries are not present to subsequently infect strawberry plants. If it or other soil sterilizing agents aren't used, the commercial strawberry farmers run the risk of losing part of their crop to disease. If fungus claims a large number of strawberries, availability in your area likely won’t change all that much if people still want to buy them. However, the price will likely climb significantly as the strawberries will have to be shipped longer distances from other places. There are alternatives, although they are not widely used at present. Some are using coconut coir as a growth medium, and anaerobic soil disinfestation shows promise. Both methyl bromide and methyl iodide are controversial topics. In fact, methyl iodide was pulled from the U.S. market by its Japanese manufacturer in 2012 after criticism from environmentalists and scientists who said the chemical may be carcinogenic. And, only a small portion of growers are still allowed to use methyl bromide before it’s completely disallowed. The two remaining fumigants available to farmers are Telone and chloropicrin, but both of those have their detractors as well. For more on the methyl iodide issue, I'd recommend you start by reading these articles: Why Use Methyl Iodide with Strawberry Plants?, and Re-Visiting Methyl Iodide Use in Strawberry Production. Steam treatments are also being experimented with in hopes that it will successfully sterilize the soil and allow full crop harvests. Hope that helps!
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