A round of international discussions regarding methyl bromide concluded recently with the assurance that methyl bromide would still be available to vegetable growers through at least 2008.

The 18th Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol met in New Dehli from Oct. 30 to Nov. 3. The final decision was to allow the United States to have 18 percent of the 1991 baseline (4,595 metric tons) in new production for 2008 with an additional 3 percent to come from existing stocks.

While this was not up to par with what was requested by the U.S. delegation, it was considered an optimistic conclusion to this round of critical-use exemption requests for methyl bromide. It does, however, continue the downward trend in methyl bromide allowed through critical-use exemption since the process began in 2002.

The total amount of methyl bromide allowed to the United States through critical-use exemption was 37.5 percent of the 1991 baseline in 2005, the first year after the ban on the soil fumigant went into effect.

In 2006, 32 percent of the baseline was allowed and in 2007, 26.25 percent of the baseline will be allowed through the critical use exemption process.

Therefore, the trend in reducing the amount of production of methyl bromide has continued. Recent data that shows inventories of methyl bromide have declined steadily over the last few years from 16,422 metric tons in 2003 to 9,575 metric tons in 2005. This basically means the supply of methyl bromide available to growers continues to be squeezed and as supplies continue to dwindle, prices are likely to rise.

While there is still no single fumigant labeled to replace methyl bromide, work continues on finding suitable replacements. The continued reductions make it even more imperative that alternatives be identified and more importantly that they be adopted by growers. The adoption process may take time.

There are some alternative strategies that University of Georgia researchers have tried successfully in large-scale trials. These strategies will require some equipment modifications and will be applied in multiple passes through the field. The system is one that users will need to adjust to and each user may adapt their own modifications to make it work.

However, it will take some time to make any alternative system work to its peak efficiency. Therefore, growers should take seriously the need to start transitioning to some of these alternative methods as soon as they are available. It is clear that methyl bromide supplies will continue to decline and those who are best prepared to transition to alternatives as they become available will be the ones who are able to maintain a competitive advantage.

Although supplies of methyl bromide may not have reached a level where it is impossible to get the fumigant, there will no doubt be price increases as supplies tighten. Therefore, it may not be the supply of methyl bromide that keeps it from being an option for growers, but it could be the price that eventually forces growers to adopt alternatives.

Some of these alternatives will be discussed in more detail at the Southeast Regional Fruit & Vegetable Conference & Trade Show in Savannah, Georgia on Jan. 6, 2007. New methods will be explained that will allow growers to be ready to try at least one alternative by the start of the 2007 season. Meanwhile, methyl bromide will be around at least through 2008.