California farm organizations are asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to clarify rules regarding organic farming. Organic farmers, particularly organic berry farmers, say that federal regulations currently contain too many loopholes that allow the use of chemical pesticides in supposedly organic products.
Strawberries in particular, one of California’s major farm products, embody these USDA loopholes. National regulations require organic produce to be grown for three years without synthetic pesticides. However, strawberry plants are grown in five year cycles. Strawberry stock plants are frequently grown in soil treated with methyl bromide, a controversial pesticide that kills soil based pests.
Organic farmers are upset that these plants are able to qualify as organic. Some organic farmers claim that it is possible to grow strawberries without pesticides, using a variety of techniques to reduce soil based pests. These techniques include creating low-oxygen conditions and adding mustard seeds and other natural plant products to reduce pest populations.
The problem, organic farmers say, is that the majority of USDA support goes to non-organic farmers, making it difficult for organic farmers to get market traction. In addition, they claim that allowing non-organic stock plants to be classified as organic makes it harder for fully organic farmers to compete.
In response to public pressure, the USDA is considering taking some pesticides like methyl bromide off the market and is considering updating its organic farming regulations.
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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer