Use of Fumigant to Face Additional State Restrictions

Taylor Hillman General

New restrictions for the soil fumigation uses of chloropicrin have been issued by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, despite scientific data provided by the agricultural sector that restrictions already in place provide for the safe use of the product.

The new requirements will affect all farmers in California who use chloropicrin as a soil application tool for many fruit, nut, vegetable and ornamental crops. Chloropicrin is used prior to planting these crops to clean the soil, which in turn helps to control diseases and pests. It is injected into the ground and never touches the crops, so there are no residues on the crops.

According to DPR, the new restrictions are intended to protect against excessive exposure to chloropicrin, which can cause eye or respiratory irritation.

The new measures include larger buffer zones, restricted acreage, notification in Spanish as well as English, and notice of intent provided to the county agricultural commissioner detailing an upcoming fumigation at least 48 hours before the scheduled application. Current regulation requires a 24-hour notice.

“DPR will make these new measures a statewide requirement, but intends to put them into effect as soon as possible by providing interim permit conditions for the county agricultural commissioners to implement at the local level,” DPR Director Brian Leahy said.

As a pre-plant soil fumigant, chloropicrin is used primarily by strawberry and tomato growers and by nut growers prior to the planting of new orchards. Chloropicrin has been used in the United States since 1975. In 2012, it was used on about 67,000 acres in California in many counties, including Ventura, Monterey, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, San Joaquin and Fresno.

“It will take a while to find out who is most impacted by this new mitigation proposal, as there are significant differences based on how and where you apply,” said Cynthia Cory, director of environmental affairs for the California Farm Bureau Federation. “The limitation on acreage size that can be treated at one time and the size of some of the buffers is significantly more restrictive for California growers than the federal label that farmers in other states will be able to operate under. These more restrictive provisions increase food production prices in California as opposed to our competitors.”

Carolyn O’Donnell of the California Strawberry Commission described chloropicrin as “critical” to the control of certain soilborne pests, and said strawberry farmers have been using it safely for more than 50 years.

“Protection of worker and public health is the agriculture community’s first priority,” she said. “There are years of scientific studies and data collection regarding chloropicrin. Farmers and their families live in the areas in which they farm, and no one cares more about safe application practices than they do.”

O’Donnell pointed out that California farmers already follow stricter regulations than farmers in any other state, and these new regulations equal added costs. For example, it is estimated that the use of high barrier films will add an additional $20 million in annual costs. Each farmer will need to assess how these regulations will affect his or her particular situation, she said.

Cory gave credit to farmers who responded to the California Environmental Protection Agency, expressing their concerns about the impact of the regulations on their farming operations.

“A shout-out goes to our members who took the time to write personal letters to convey the burden that would have resulted from having to perform both notification to all surrounding neighbors and to conduct field monitoring. I believe that input helped preserve this provision as an option, as opposed to having to do both activities,” Cory said.

Fumigants can only be applied by specially trained applicators, licensed or certified by the state of California, and only under certain weather conditions. Application method requirements are strictly enforced and, in addition to federal and state regulations, county agricultural commissioners also have the authority to impose site-specific restrictions when necessary, such as extended buffer zones and date/time restrictions governing application near schools or sensitive sites.

Story by Steve Adler
Originally published in Ag Alert by the California Farm Bureau Federation.
Steve Adler is associate editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at