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A. Bello*, J. A. López-Pérez*, L. Díaz-Viruliche*, J. Tello**

*Dept. Agroecology, Center for Environmental Sciences, CSIC, Madrid, Spain
**Dept Plant Production, ETSIA, University of Almeria, Spain

Summary. Until 1998, Spain was the fourth country in the consumption of MeBr in the world, with a total of 4,191 t used. MeBr was applied as a soil fumigant to 8,988 ha of various crops, mainly strawberry (33 %), pepper (29 %), cut flower (9 %) and cucurbits (9 %). To reduce the consumption of MeBr, it is recommended the application of reduced dose (20-40 g / m2) under virtually impermeable film (VIF), and formulations of MeBr with a high content of chloropicrin (35-50 %). Among chemical alternatives, the combination of 1.3 dichloropropene (1.3-D) plus chloropicrin, dazomet, or reduced doses of metam sodium have been demonstrated to be as effective as MeBr when applied with solarization. Among the non-chemical alternatives, biofumigation and solarization are outstanding, and so are soil-less cultivation, crop rotation, resistant varieties, and grafting, which are effective means of control when included in an integrated crop management system (ICM). The alternatives cost less, are as effective as MeBr, and do not pose problems in application.

Key words: strawberry, pepper, vegetables, cut flowers, biofumigation


The date of elimination of MeBr in Spain, as an EU member, is in the year 2005, except for critical uses, whenever conclusive technical, economic and social reasons are indicated. There will be a gradual withdrawal of up to 60 % in the year 2001 and up to 75 % in 2003, since the remaining 25 % should have been withdrawn in 1998. It should be remembered that the use of MeBr in Spain, for control of pathogens in vegetables, is centered on a limited number of fungi (Fusarium oxysporum, Phytophthora and Verticillium) and only on root-knot nematodes (Meloidogyne). Cases exist where MeBr application does not solve phytopathological problems, since the effectiveness of MeBr depends on soil conditions such as pH, moisture, depth, content of organic matter, biological activity and temperature (Bello and Tello 1998). EU experts feel that if 40 % of the farmers used dose reduction methods and 50 % used alternatives, a 90 % reduction could be attained. All this demonstrates that MeBr can be rapidly eliminated in the EU, since alternatives are economically and technically viable in the majority of cases (Tierney 2000).

The major non-chemical alternatives are:

Among the outstanding chemical alternatives, whenever application is performed correctly, are found:

Outstanding are also ICM techniques, which consist in a combination of biological alternatives, cultivation practices and reduced doses of low-risk chemical products. However, it must be remembered that chemical products are an alternative solely to comply with the gradual reduction imposed to the Parties by Montreal Protocol, and in no way are they a solution for the future. They are only short term solutions as substitutes for MeBr to avoid the possible economic impact from the prohibition during the next few years (Bello et al. 1998; MBTOC 1998).

II. Consumption of MeBr

The consumption of MeBr in Spain does not surpass 8,988 ha of treated crops, a negligible percentage in comparison to the total surface devoted to vegetable and fruit crops. Most of the vegetable areas treated with MeBr in Spain does not reach reach 1 % (Table 1), except for strawberries only in Huelva (33.1 %) and strawberry nurseries in Castilla-Leon, where MeBr is applied in most of the fields, and cut flowers in Cadiz (20 %). Among the Autonomous Spanish Communities, Andalusia (1,930 t), Valencia (877 t), Murcia (719 t), Castile-Leon (304 t) and Catalonia (130 t) stand out for their consumption. The consumption of the remaining communities is well below 100 t; and is zero in Aragon, Asturias, Cantabria, La Rioja and the Basque Provinces (Fig. 1; Table 1).

With regard to crops, strawberry is the most treated, with 33 % of its area (1,399 t), then pepper 29 % (1,206 t), vegetables in general 12 % (540 t), cut flowers 9 % (393 t), cucurbits 9 % (356 t), tomato 5 % (213 t) and others 3 % (134 t). Lately with the enforcement of regulations for integrated production in citrus and the use of float tray techniques in tobacco seedbeds, MeBr is practically not used for these crops (Table 1; Fig. 2). On the other hand, MeBr is a forbidden pesticide according to the majority of ICM's regulations, which represent over one million ha in our country.

III. Background on the search for alternatives to MeBr in Spain

Since 1992 an intensive work on the development of new alternatives to replace MeBr in Spain has been carried out. Its major results were summarized by Bolivar (1999), who pointed out that:

  1. a decrease in the dose of MeBr can be effective for complying with the 75 % reduction established by the EU for the year 2003;
  2. treatments with the mixture of 1.3-D plus chloropicrin give results similar to MeBr;
  3. biofumigation plus solarization gives good results when applied under appropriate conditions;
  4. there are still no alternatives in Spain for strawberry or cut flower nurseries; and
  5. that pepper crops present problems of soil deterioration.

IV. Production of tomato and other crops without MeBr

The cultivation of tomato is a good example of a MeBr reduction in Spain, since only 875 ha are treated with this fumigant (Vares 1998), which represents 10 % of the area cultivated in controlled environments and only 1.5 % of the total area for this crop (60,155 ha; MAPA 1996). The low consumption of MeBr in tomatoes is noteworthy because this crop uses 5,271 t (37 %) being the number one in MeBr consumption in the European Union. The non-use of MeBr in tomatoes in Spain is due to the absence of several highly virulent pathogens. among them the strain 2 of Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. lycopersici; Sclerotium rolfsii (only found in industrial tomato in Estremadura); Phytophthora spp., which does not cause problems in Spain; Pyrenochaeta lycopersici + Colletotrichum coccodes + Rhizoctonia solani complex, which has been found only in the Basque Provinces; and the absence of highly pathogenic nematodes that affect crops in tropical countries (Tello 2000).

As alternatives to MeBr, Spain is using resistant varieties, artificial and natural substrates such as the sand-covered soils of the southern part of the peninsula and of the Canary Islands, grafting, biofumigation, crop rotation and fallow land, planning the time for sowing, preventative measures in seedbeds and chemical controls. Steam is not used because of the high cost of this technique. In summer solarization occurs naturally, as a phenomenon, but this technique, in general, is not widespread among farmers.

A biological control of tomato pathogens exists through other soil organisms since large populations of Pasteuria penetrans have been frequently observed parasitizing Meloidogyne spp. in tomato fields. Therefore, it is assumed that they have an important role in the regulation of the populations of these nematodes (Bello et al. 1997; Tello 2000).

MeBr consumption is low or non existing in grapes, in bananas in the Canary Islands, fruit trees and vegetables in the Ebro River Valley, tobacco in Estremadura, and citrus trees in general. The use of MeBr in these crops is of only 78 t (1.5 % of the total consumption) to treat 136 ha (0.05 %) (Bello and Tello 1998).

V. Alternatives to MeBr

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fishing and Food (MAPA)'s regulations, which went into effect in June 1998, established a dose of 20 - 40 g m-2, by which a reduction could be achieved of over 50 % of the consumption of MeBr in Spain. At the same time, this measure included the reduction of MeBr concentration in its formulations, by increasing chloropicrin from 2 % to 50 %, equal to more than 30 % reduction of the total MeBr then consumed. By this way a total reduction of 70 - 80 % was foreseen to be reached.

Strawberry producers in Huelva have been applying MeBr in strips and / or mixed with chloropicrin (67 % of MeBr + 33 % of chloropicrin), techniques which enable the growers to use rates of less than than 20 g / m-2 of MeBr. Other measures applied are the use of short-lasting crops for no more than one year and the use of low doses of chemical products combined with solarization. The strawberry sector contributes over 4 million days of wages a year to the economy of Huelva, without counting the wages created in the Castilla - Leon Autonomous Region's strawberry nurseries. The owners of the strawberry nurseries in Castilla - Leon have been applying successfully the mixture of MeBr + chlorpicrin as well as low doses of MeBr (350-650 kg ha-1) (Bello and Tello 1998).

Pepper producers in Campo de Cartagena (Murcia) and in southern Alicante are using 300 kg ha-1 as the maximum dose of the 98 % MeBr + 2 % chloropicrin mixture. This rate is 50 % of the conventional dose used. The growers are also compelled to use MeBr under VIF plastic.

Pepper cultivation generates employment for 3,569 field workers, 1,785 warehouse personnel and 714 indirect jobs, which is a total of 6068 jobs equal to $ 46 million US in manual labor. Therefore the importance of peppers in this area is evident.

Biofumigation and the use of resistant grafts have also been studied as alternatives. Biofumigation was found to be as effective as MeBr whenever it is applied combined with soil solarization in the months of August and September. Some pepper root stocks effective against Phytophtora wer also selected (Lacasa et al. 2000).

The results obtained by the Project for problematic crops("Environmental-friendly, Economically-viable Alternatives to the Conventional Use of MeBr") coordinated by MAPA, within the National Plan for Research and Development, is an evidence that MeBr can be reduced to 80 % for strawberries by the year 2003. Chemical and non-chemical alternatives for carrots were developed (Lopez-Aranda 1999). Some sound alternatives validated in peppers in Murcia (Lacasa et al. 1999). Based on all this information, it is difficult to understand how the EU experts have shown that MeBr sales in Spain (5,157 t) are 39.6 % of the EU total.

In Spain, successful application of biofumigation have been obtained in strawberries in Andalusia and Valencia; peppers in Murcia and Castilla-La Mancha; cucurbits in Valencia, Castilla-La Mancha and Madrid; tomato in Valencia and the Canary Islands; brassicae, cut flowers, citrus and fruit trees in Valencia; banana in the Canary Islands; and vineyards in Castilla-La Mancha (Bello el al. 1997, Bello and Melo 1998, Bello and Miquel 1998 a, b, Bello el al. 1998, Cebolla et al. 1999, García et al. 1999, Bello et al. 2000). Biofumigation has also been recently applied to Swiss chard crops in Madrid and carrot crops in Andalusia and Alicante. The most utilized biofumigants have been goat, sheep and cow manure, and residues from rice, mushroom, olive, brassicae, and gardens (Fig. 3).

The cost of biofumigation is minimal since the differences from the application of organic matter, a frequent practice in any ICM system, are in the characteristics of the organic matter and its method of application. Its effectiveness in controlling nematodes, fungi, insects, bacteria, and weeds is nearly the same as with the use of conventional pesticides. Biofumigation may also regulate viral problems by controlling vector organisms (Bello et al. 2000).

Biofumigation is an easy technique for farmers and technicians to apply, since it differs from the application of organic matter only in the choice of the biofumigant and in the method of application. The biofumigant should be in the process of decomposition. The method of application should take into account the need to retain the gases from the biofumigant that are produced in the biodegradation of the organic matter for at least two weeks, since its effect in the majority of cases is not biocidal, but rather biostatic. Therefore, it is necessary to prolong its action on pathogens throughout the course of time. A marked herbicidal effect has also been verified. It has been demonstrated that any agroindustrial residue or its combinations whith a C / N ratio between 8 and 20 can have a high biofumigating effect, which can be easily identified by the farmer since it delivers the characteristic odor of ammonia. It should be kept in mind, however, that not only nitrogen derivatives have a biofumigating effect. Therefore, it is advisable to characterize the the agro-industrial residues before its application as biofumigants,.

During transportation and storage of these organic materials in the field, care must be taken not to lose the gases produced from biodegradation, by covering the piles of the biofumigant with plastic until the time of application. A dose of 50 t ha-1 is recommended, although when problems with nematodes or fungi are very serious, 100 t ha-1 should be applied, a dose that can be reduced by means of cultivation techniques such as application in furrows. The biofumigant should be distributed uniformly, so that focuses of pathogens will not appear that could create problems for the crop. Once the biofumigant is distributed, it should be incorporated immediately into the soil by means of a rototiller, leaving the surface of the soil smooth with the application of the rototiller's leveler. It is watered, if possible by sprinkling, until the soil is saturated, although watering can be done by flooding, or drip irrigation can be installed. It is then covered with plastic for at least two weeks to retain the gases produced from the biodegradation of the organic matter.

When soils are shallow (<30cm), the use of plastic is not necessary; gases can be retained by frequent watering, which maintains a thin crust of clay on the surface. Biofumigation is recommended to be carried out when the temperature is over 20ºC, although temperature is not a limiting factor. Biofumigation can be combined with solarization, by keeping the plastic in place for a period of one month, although it has been observed that this decreases the biological diversity of the soil. The use of local resources as biofumigants is recommended, since the principal limiting factor in biofumigation is the cost of transporting the organic matter. Some problems may arise in the fertilization of the soil and in plant nutrition such as phytotoxicity and nitrogen deficiency, but they can all be solved with adequate fertilization.

It is recommended to alternate the use of agricultural residues with green manure, especially from brassicae, using 5-8 kg m-2 of green matter, although combinations of legumes and grass can be applied. In the case of the use of green manure cultivated in the same field, fast growing plants should be used to be incorporated at least 30 days after having been planted, to avoid the increase of pathogen populations. The cultivation of brassicae after biofumigation can serve as bio-indicators of possible phytotoxicity, since the germination of these seeds is sensitive to phytotoxic substances. At the same time they are very sensitive to phytoparasitic nematodes and permit the detection of areas in the crop where biofumigation is not effective, acting like trap plants, and like biofumigants when incorporated into the soil.

The cost of biofumigation can reach the same value as MeBr, especially when animal manure, or agricultural residues, have to be brought from great distances. Costs can be reduced when green manure is used, which does not usually exceed 300 US$ ha-1. But since biofumigation is actually simply the application of an organic amendment, which is a normal practice in ICM systems, the cost could be considered as zero. Some difficulties could arise at the beginning of the implementation of biofumigation, but with time the farmer will become more familiar with the method and will choose the best mixtures of biofumigants and their rates.

Solarization is a method, which is not effective by itself, especially when dealing with the control of mobile organisms such as nematodes. Due to absorbed heat the nematodes move deeper in the soil, but are again brought up to the surface of the soil when ploughing begins. Solarization has been effective in soils having a high content of organic matter, when combined with biofumigation), or in shallow soils. Solarization combined with biofumigation should last two months if the air temperature are over 40ºC (Lacasa et al. 1999). However, 30 to 45 days are enough during July and August, when the temperature of the soil is above 50ºC. A loss in the bio-diversity of the soil has been observed after solarization. The effectiveness of the method increases when combined with low doses of commercial fumigants. This alternative has proved to be effective in strawberries in Huelva and carrots in Cadiz. Solarization combined with fumigants, such as metam sodium, at rates of 100 cc m-2, is a common practice in Spain. The effectiveness of this treatment is comparable to those with MeBr.

Grafting, aims at controlling soil borne diseases, it consists of cultivating a sensitive plant on the root system of another one resistant to the disease to be controlled. It is used in vegetables for solanaceous plants (tomato, eggplant and pepper) and for cucurbits (melon, cucumber and watermelon). Grafting can compete with MeBr in production, reliability and price. This technique is found widely introduced in Almeria and Valencia to control vascular Fusarium wilt in watermelon (Bello 1998, Bello et al. 1998).

In Spain tobacco seedbeds can be planted without MeBr, by using the floating tray technique (Blanco 2000), which allows to obtain seedlings in an easy, safe way with uniform root balls, quality and low cost. Trays remain floating on water in a pool from sowing to transplanting. Pools can be located outdoors in plastic micro-tunnels protected by thermal blankets, or indoors, in greenhouses. The walls of the pool should be 15 cm high and constructed with bricks, cement blocks, metal sheets or wood. When floating, the trays should stick out 1 cm above the top edge of the walls. Therefore the depth of the water in the pool will be approximately 10 cm, since the trays are about 6 cm high. The inside of the pool should be covered with two black plastic sheets. The substrate is based on peat.

It is necessary to use quality water and soluble fertilizers, which should be uniformly distributed throughout the pool. An adequate fertilizer would be 20-10-20, which should not contain any urea. Nitrogen should be of nitric and ammoniac origin in equal parts. It is recommended to add 80 to 100 ppm of nitrogen when filling the pool with water, or one week after sowing. Four weeks later, more water with 80 to 100 ppm of nitrogen is again added. An excess of nitrogen can make the plants more sensitive to disease.

Expanded high density (32 - 35 g / 1) polystyrene trays are used. A tray that gives us good results measures 61.5 x 34 x 6 cm and consists of 264 cells. Each cell should be in the form of an inverted pyramid or cone. The volume of each cell should range between 16 - 23 cm3. In our trays cells have a volume of 17 cm3. Cells are uniformly filled with substrate and seeds are sown in the center of the cell. Seeds must be pelletized, uniform in size and with a germinating power of over 90 %. During germination an optimum temperature of 21 - 24ºC is required. Preventive measures are indispensable to maintain the tobacco plants free from pests and diseases and so it is recommended to disinfect the various elements used with a solution of water plus 10 % commercial bleach. This technique has been used since 1991 in tobacco crops in Caceres (Estremadura), and is an effective alternative to MeBr.

Chemical alternatives. The 1.3-D plus chloropicrin (35 %) at a dose of 40 cm3 / m2 is just as effective an alternative as MeBr for strawberry crops, as well as for pepper and other vegetables in Spain. But it deals with only a temporary solution to the MeBr problem, since due to its carcinogenic effects and groundwater contamination, it is forbidden in various countries. The only recommendable chemical alternatives are limited to the application of dazomet (50 g / m2) and low doses of metam sodium (60 - 100 cm3/m2) in combination with solarization, which has proven effective as an alternative to MeBr for strawberry in Huelva and carrot in Cadiz (Lopez-Aranda 1999). In Spain metam sodium is generally applied in doses between 1000-1200 l / ha, but the lowest dose approved by the Ministry of Agriculture is 600 l / ha (Bello et al. 1998).

Integrated Crop Management (ICM) is being applied in Spain to most of the crops that are treated with MeBr, especially tomato and other vegetables, banana, citrus fruits, vineyards and fruit trees.

The ICM system is effective in regulating pathogen populations and increasing crop production. Vegetable crops of short cycle (2-3 months) may be used as trap plants in winter.

The health and quality of seeds and plants are important elements in ICM. Sowing time is established by taking into account temperature changes unfavorables to pathogen development. For example, in the Canary Islands the planting time is stratified, it begins with highlands at the end of summer and ends on the coast by the end of autumn.

Resistant plants can also be used, the resistance should be managed appropriately, in order to avoid the incidence of more virulent pathogen populations. Resistance should be applied through grafting, not only in fruit trees, but also in vegetables, as root stocks, when varieties sensitive to pathogens need to be cultivated.


Various companies and research teams in Spain have given special attention to the development of new alternatives to MeBr. The results obtained have been internationally recognized. Spain is one of the countries in the world that is decreasing its consumption of MeBr in tomato, fruit trees, vineyards, banana and tobacco. The biofumigation, solarization, grafting, floating trays for tobacco seedbeds, biological control and ICM are sound alternatives for the replacement of MeBr, whihc can also be adapted in other countries.

In Spain, the only crop considered as "critical" using MeBr is strawberry nurseries. The use of MeBr in this crop is due mainly to the commercial requirement of treating these plants with the fumigant.

MeBr consumption in Spain is relatively rational in the doses used as well as in the frequency of applications. In the majority of cases it is applied every two years, with treatments being localized in very specific areas and crops. MAPA's regulations have brought a 50 % reduction in MeBr rates, which is also an economic achievement.

Among the chemical alternatives the cost of 1.3-D plus chloropicrin has not yet been established, but it is considered to be less than MeBr's one However, the application of this mixture has a high carcinogenic effect and may contaminate underground water. Therefore its application should be made in a rational manner, under the advice of specialized technicians. The remaining pesticides selected can be applied at a low dose when combined with solarization, the cost being much lower than MeBr. Specialized technicians are not needed for these applications. Biofumigation always results more economic than MeBr when local raw materials are used. It also increases crop production by 60 % (Bello et al. 2000).

The ICM system has used various methods, such as biofumigation with solarization in the months of July-September, the rotation of short cycle crops that act as trap plants and biofumigants, resistant varieties with grafts, and as a last resort crops grown on substrates (Bello et al. 1998). These alternatives in the majority of cases do not generally imply additional costs. Although highly qualified farmers and technicians are necessary to select the adequate alternative for each case, which will make the crop profitable and not be over-whelming to health and the environment, and to apply, when necessary, low doses of pesticides with limited environmental risks.


  1. MeBr for soil fumigation in Spain is mainly applied in strawberries (33 %), pepper (29 %), vegetables in general (12 %), cut flower (9 %), tomatoes (5 %) and other crops (3 %). Regions with the highest consumption are Andalusia, Murcia, Valencia, Castile - Leon and Catalonia. MeBr is not used in the majority of the autonomous regions, particularly in tomatoes, which is the major world consumer of MeBr. Effective alternatives have been developed for tobacco in Estremadura, which may be used in other countries still using MeBr.
  2. There are alternatives for most of the crops where MeBr is used. Their implementation depends on the species of pathogen to be controlled, the crop and the geographical region. Viable alternative methods do not necessarily have the same effectiveness as MeBr, but they are also effective from the technical and economically point of view. In the short term, chemical alternatives will provide enough control of major pests. However, in the future the non-chemical alternatives will be more sustainable. Although some small economic differences may exist, the alternatives will be viable in the long term.
  3. Among the alternatives to the use of MeBr, in first place is the dose reduction established by the "Ministry of Agriculture, Fishing and Food" at a dose of 20 - 40 g / m2, according to whether VIP plastic is used, or not. At the same time formulations with a high percentage of chloropicrin (35 - 50 %) are recommended, and treatments with 1.3-D plus chloropicrin, low doses of metam sodium and other pesticides in combination with solarization. Among the non-chemical alternatives, biofumigation is exceptionally convenient, and it can be combined with solarization-both, whenever possible, within an ICM system which harmonizes cultural practices, crop rotation, grafting and resistant varieties.
  4. Producers should become aware of the proximity of the ban on MeBr (year 2005). They should make all possible efforts to find alternatives for the control of soilborne pathogens that affect their crops and above all, should not plan any production system depending on MeBr since now on. Alternatives should continue to maintain the quality and profitability of agricultural production, without producing a negative impact on the health of living beings or on the environment. But most importantly, they should avoid proposals far from our agricultural and social reality.


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Table 1. Crops and MeBr consumption in Spain (for the year 1995) (1)



MeBr (t)

MeBr (ha)

% of Total ha(3)

1. Potato

1. Valencia (4)

328 (5)



2. Tomato(6)

2. Alicante (4)





3. Almería (4)

102 (5)




4. Murcia (4)




3. Beans

5. Almería (4)

rotated with tomato



4. Watermelon

6. Almería (4)

173 (5)




7. Valencia (4)

rotated with potato



5. Zucchini

8. Almería (4)

rotated with watermelon



6. Melon

9. Almería (4)

rotated with watermelon



7. Cucumber

10. Almería (4)

rotated with watermelon



8. Carrot

11. Cádiz (4)




9. Vegetables in general

12. Cádiz





13. Valencia (4)





14. Barcelona (4)




10. Cut flowers

15. Cádiz (4)





16. Barcelona (4)





17. Sevilla (4)




11. Pepper

21. Murcia





22. Alicante





23. Almería (4)




12. Strawberry

18. Huelva (4)





19. Barcelona (4)





20. Majorca




13.Strawberry nurseries

24. Segovia





25. Ávila





26. Navarre





27. Palencia





28. Huelva





29. Valladolid




Citrus fruits, MeBr is forbidden in ICM




- The Canary Isalnds crop is not specified




- Others (consumption < 15 t)









(1) The percentage of chloropicrin is deducted, although consumption could have diminished by more than 50 % due to the MAPA regulations of 1998.

(2) Crops are given in the order of lesser to greater difficulty to eliminate MeBr.

(3) According to MAPA (1996).

(4) Methyl bromide is used biannually.

(5) Forms part of a crop rotation system.

(6) Methyl bromide is practically not used for tomato in Spain.


Fig. 1. Distribution of methyl bromide consumption in Spain (Canary Islands inset).

Fig. 2. Consumption of methyl bromide by crop in Spain.


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