Controversial chemical is vital for crops - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Controversial chemical is vital for crops

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Echols County - In a few weeks, Kevin Coggins will transplant thousands of bell pepper plants into his fields. The soil in those fields has been injected with a controversial pesticide called methyl bromide. "It sterilizes the soil, kills all insects and all weeds," said Coggins.

The amount of methyl bromide farmers are allowed to use has been drastically reduced in the last decade, and under a critical use exemption, only farmers who grow certain crops can still use the chemical. "They say its an ozone depleter," said Coggins.

But if its taken off the market like environmental groups want, Coggins says his farming business will go down the drain. "We're not talking a small production decrease here, we're talking major, we could have total crop destruction without it," said Coggins.

Researchers are trying to find chemicals that will treat the soil just as effectively as methyl bromide, but so far, nothing has worked. "We work with different products and chemicals and think we've got something and the next year it lets us down. We've been doing tests on this stuff for 10 or 12 years," said Coggins.

Coggins says methyl bromide is actually a safe chemical, since it won't penetrate the soil and get into our water supply. "It doesn't have any residue left in the soil, there's no residue in the product, it does its thing and leaves, its the only chemical that does that," said Coggins.

As the controversy surrounding the chemical grows, so does the cost. "When we started using methyl bromide it was around 70 cents a pound but its $2.75 to $3.00 a pound now," said Coggins.

It's a high price, but one he's willing to keep paying to save his crops and his livelihood.

posted by ashley.harper@walb.com