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New regulations on the use of agricultural fumigants, due to go into effect at the beginning of this year, have been delayed, possibly until the fall, says Mike Conway, general manager for Trident Ag Products in Woodland, Washington.       The proposed regulations are designed to reduce the risks of agricultural workers and bystanders being exposed to soil fumigants such as chloropicrin and metam sodium, which are commonly used in tree fruits and grapes. However, the rules will also make fumigation more complicated and costly for fruit growers, Conway believes.

Trident Ag Products is a fumigant applicator for orchards, vineyards, and other types of farms in Washington, Oregon, and western Idaho. It is affiliated with Trinity ­Manufacturing, Inc., in Hamlet, North Carolina, which is a registrant of chloropicrin, an ingredient of the fumigants Telone C-17, Telone C-35, and PicChlor 60.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency planned to phase-in the regulations over a two-year period starting January 1 this year, but Conway said fumigant registrants have not yet seen revised labels from the EPA, and still don’t know exactly what the new requirements will be. Changes can’t be implemented without them being on the product label. The EPA is still working with the registrants and collecting data, and it’s possible that they will go into effect this fall instead.

Once the new labels are issued, the state departments that enforce the regulations will have to ramp up to deal with them.

Public comment

The EPA announced proposed new safety regulations for fumigants in 2008 and during the following year took public comment on them. In May 2009, the agency released amended regulations based on input from stakeholders and new scientific data.

An immediate change was that metam sodium/potassium and dazomet were ­reclassified as restricted-use pesticides, like the other fumigants chloropicrin, 1,3-dichloropropene, iodomethane, methyl bromide, and methyl isothiocyanate.

Measures to be implemented in 2010 included: good agricultural practices, rate reductions, site limitations, new handler protections, extended worker reentry ­restrictions, and training for workers.

Measures to be implemented in 2011 included: fumigant management plans, first responder and community outreach, applicator training, compliance, buffer zones, emergency preparedness, and restrictions on applications near sensitive areas.

Significant changes

Changes that could significantly impact how fruit growers fumigate their sites include the good agricultural practices. Although details have not yet been announced, they are likely to include new requirements about the soil moisture level, ripping, and the depth of the shanks during fumigation to reduce the risk of off-gassing. With some fumigants, the label rate might be reduced.

The changes could also involve more paperwork. For example, growers might have to keep site-specific fumigation management plans on file. Conway envisions that the grower and applicator would work together to develop the plans, though there might be a template. It’s likely that the grower will need to have a map of the site identifying sensitive areas—places where bystanders or neighbors could be exposed to the fumigant—and put out flyers or radio announcements to alert the community when ground is being fumigated. Notices of the fumigation will have to be posted not just around the field but also around the edge of the buffer zone, which might be on someone else’s property. Growers are likely to need written approval from the property owner that a buffer zone can extend into their property.

The size of buffer zones has not yet been announced, but they will vary, depending on the fumigant being used and the area being treated, Conway said. Growers might have to consider fumigating only part of the site or doing it in stages in order to reduce the required buffer. For example, if a 40-acre block needed a buffer zone of 200 feet, it might be possible to strip fumigate it and reduce the buffer zone to 75 feet. Alternatively, 10 acres might be fumigated one day, 10 acres the next, and 20 acres the following day.

“How you fumigate and what you fumigate with will not be based on efficacy and plant growth response,” Conway said. “What you are able to fumigate with will be based on what the regulations allow you to do and how those regulations best fit your site.”

Conway said the regulations will increase the expense of fumigation, particularly if the applicator has to go back to treat an area over the course of several days. “It’s going to be challenging, to say the very least.”