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Watsonville firm’s chemical fumigant alternative growing fast

Posted: Thursday, Aug 15th, 2013

Stefanie Bourcier of Farm Fuel Inc. talks about anaerobic soil disinfestation being used on a crop of sage. (Photos by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)

WATSONVILLE — As the technically banned methyl-bromide is phased out due to its ozone-depleting properties and other chemical fumigants are targeted for increased regulation, conventional growers who rely on them to control potentially crop-destroying, soil-borne diseases and pests are in a race to find viable alternatives.

Next Tuesday, Watsonville-based Farm Fuel Inc. will present an educational program on Anaerobic Soil Disinfestation (ASD), a pre-planting soil treatment method that has scientists, farmers and regulators taking notice.

The firm that got its start producing biofuel from mustard seed has been working with ASD for four years, primarily in row crops such as strawberries and raspberries.

Farm Fuel CEO Stefanie Bourcier said conventional growers have found the process useful in treating their buffer zones, which are expanding due to increased regulations, while offering organic growers more pre-plant treatment options.

The process is similar to what conventional growers are already accustomed to and culturally fits in with their normal practices on the farm, she explained.

“It is easily adaptable to what growers are already doing; there is not a huge cultural shift,” Bourcier said.

Approximately four weeks before plants are put in the ground the soil is treated with an organic soil amendment containing carbon sources such as rice bran, molasses or grape pomace (a wine-making bi-product), covered with a plastic tarp and sealed to keep out oxygen, irrigated and then monitored with installed soil sensors.

When the ASD process is complete, approximately a week before planting, holes are punched into the plastic cover to allow the soil to go back to aerobic conditions. Then the field is ready to plant — no chemical fumigants required.

Bourcier said during the first year of research trials they planted six acres, the following year 130 acres and are on track for 1,000 acres this year.

It is no wonder the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) awarded Farm Fuel a grant to promote the use of ASD in California, where up to 88 percent of the nation’s strawberry crop is grown.

On Tuesday, strawberry and caneberry growers who have signed up to be a part of the firm’s ongoing research trials — Bourcier said they have 22 trial plots set up throughout the state — will be able to learn more about the process, the science behind it and to ask questions and offer suggestions on how to make the process easier for them.

Farm Fuel Inc. was founded by farmers looking to find more sustainable ways of farming, and Bourcier said, they continue to put farmers first in all they do and develop products and services that are field-based, not created in a lab off-site.

“No one is doing things like we are,” she said.


What: ASD Workshop in Watsonville

When: Aug. 20, 8:15 to 11:30am

Where: Auditorium of Santa Cruz County Cooperative Education, 1432 Freedom Blvd., Watsonville

Who: Farm Fuel Inc, UC Researchers

The public is invited.

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