Methyl Iodide For Strawberries? Simply Not Needed

I gave the following speech at a press conference yesterday at the California State Legislature regarding the rushed approval of methyl iodide, a new toxic fumigant proposed for use to sterilize soil prior to planting strawberries.  As background, John Froines, PhD, and chair of the California Scientific Review Committee that evaluated methyl iodide, at a 2010 Senate hearing called it “one of the most toxic chemicals on earth.”  For more information see:


Thank you all for your interest in the methyl iodide issue.  My name is Craig Wichner, and I run Farmland LP, an investment fund that acquires conventional farmland and adds value by converting it to organic, sustainable farmland. I’m glad to be here to share the perspective of the investment community on methyl iodide.

California is the state of innovation and progress.  California’s auto emission standards improved the efficiency of our nation’s automobiles and eliminated lead from our gasoline.  California led the way in clean energy technology that is helping reduce CO2 emissions and reduce mercury pollution from Coal-fired power plants.  And California is the home of the medical science industry that uses biology to cure cancer, rather than toxic chemicals that doctors hope will kill the cancer cells before killing the patient.

Yet in the field of Agriculture, California seems to have forgotten its vast success in innovation and progress, and rather than supporting its leading position in organic and sustainable agriculture, it looked backwards to approve a pesticide more toxic than the one it replaces.  This is a gigantic step backwards for California. From the viewpoint of this investor, methyl iodide will not only sterilize and pollute the soil, but it will kill jobs, kill investment in agriculture, and kill another opportunity for California to lead the nation in healthy, sustainable and organic food production.

Why does organic food production matter to California’s economy?  Organic, sustainable agriculture is proven successful and is more profitable than chemical-reliant agriculture.  California’s farmers generated 36% of the nation’s revenues for organic crops; California produces over 60% of the nation’s organic fruits, nuts and vegetables; and California has 2.5x more certified organic cropland acres than any other state.

This leadership in organic agriculture is very important to California’s economy. For example, organic farmers are 2.5x more likely to make $100k per year than conventional farmers. Organic farmers are more profitable as well, as they are not dependent on expensive genetically modified seeds, non-organic fertilizers, nor on toxic and expensive pesticides (such as methyl iodide).  And best of all for California’s economy, organic, sustainable Agriculture employs twice as many people per acre while still being more profitable.  These are benefits California gets from organic agriculture, and these benefits are lost when pesticides are used.

Regarding methyl iodide, there is simply no need to mix this pesticide with strawberries. Per the California Strawberry Commission, California produced a record crop of strawberries in 2010 – without methyl iodide.  And certified organic strawberries, grown without fumigants, made up 4.5% of the crop acres, while generating an even higher percentage of the profits and revenues.  Organic and sustainable methods work, and work at commercial scale.

California’s investors are interested in supporting and accelerating the transition to organic and sustainable agriculture.  But the Government makes it much harder when it actively supports toxic pesticides that aren’t needed and that lock in antiquated and harmful production methods.  By approving these pesticides, the government subsidizes and enables harmful, unnecessary agricultural practices and stifles and suppresses innovation and investment in sustainable agriculture.  Thus, I call on California to innovate — Use MI as an experiment:  rescind the approval of MI, and watch as the amount of certified organic acreage increases significantly over the next few years, and watch as sustainable agriculture practices advance and spread.  This will benefit the farmers who transition to organic and sustainable methods, as well as California’s economy, California’s environment, and California’s workers and citizens.

Healthy, sustainable food systems are the future. Eliminating pesticides has no cost to California, and yet it creates jobs, keeps our citizens healthy, and boosts our economy.  CA should be the innovator and point the way forward to a sustainable future, rather than heading back to methyl iodide and other pesticides.

So I ask the administration to do two things, plus one bonus opportunity:

First, rescind the approval of methyl iodide, an act that requires no expenditure and yet will deliver substantial economic benefit.

Second, divest its holdings of $50 million in Arysta, the pesticide manufacturer.  There are other places to invest that will deliver similar returns without their product harming California.

And the bonus option is to invest those divested funds into opportunities which enhance organic, sustainable and local agriculture for California.

While this toxic compound was approved in the final gasp of the last administration, I would expect that any administration that looks to the future would reject the short term profits of a single pesticide company in favor of policies that create farm jobs, grow healthy food, and preserve and restore the environment for the great State of California.