Nothing says summer quite like a juicy, ripe strawberry. Strawberries get tossed with salads, form the basis for fruit salads or top desserts with dollops of whipped cream. And they are a $2.4 billion industry in the U.S.

This summer may be the last summer that we see strawberries in the same abundance or at low prices as strawberry farmers struggle to comply with federal regulations banning a specific pesticide they use to keep strawberries safe from disease, insects, and other microbes that may make us sick.

Farmers have used a chemical called methyl bromide to treat strawberries since the pesticide was introduced in the 1960s. Then came the environmental war of the 1990s. Methyl bromide became a target for environmentalists because they claimed it added to the hole in the ozone layer. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made it a casualty with a phased banning in 2005. The EPA has given the industry exemptions over the past decade, but they absolutely run out in 2016.

The problem is there is no replacement that is safe enough, ready for prime time, or can be used in the mass quantities needed to keep up with strawberry production. Apparently, of the possible alternatives, one is a known carcinogen while another causes respiratory problems. In addition, a third alternative alters DNA and taints ground water. Methyl bromide may be the least of all evils, but don’t tell that to the EPA.

You would think that the FDA would’ve been as ardent about seeking alternatives, but perhaps that’s indicative of what many federal agencies don’t do. They just regulate.

Tech Insider tells the story:

A 25-year-old treaty is about to bite strawberry farmers in the butt. After 10 years of being exempt from the Montreal Protocol — a treaty aimed at curbing ozone-depleting chemicals in the atmosphere — American strawberry growers are finally being made to comply with its pesticide requirements.

… As Sophia Cai explains in this Chemical & Engineering News video, methyl bromide breaks down in the soil to create bromine, which negatively impacts the Earth's ozone layer – a layer in the Earth's stratosphere that absorbs most of the sun's UV radiation.

Farmers inject methyl bromide into fields before planting to kill off pests like insects, and fungus.

Farmers have been using methyl bromide since 1961, but in 1990, the Montreal Protocol mandated that farmers stop using it by 2005 because of its ozone destroying ways. Several government exemptions allowed farmers to continue using the fumigant, but these will all expire at the end of 2016.

It sounds like a good idea to have farmers stop using this compound that destroys the ozone layer. The problem is that we still don't have any good replacements for methyl bromide.

As the Washington Post explains, while there are promising solutions under development, they aren’t the one-shot solution curing what ails the strawberry like fumigants do:

Some scientists at the University of California-Davis are working on a genetic solution, by researching resistance to soil-borne diseases. Their greenhouse has more than 1,600 varieties of the fruit, and the hope is that they can sift through and find a gene that could make them stronger. That strategy could take a few years to accomplish, though.

"As more and more land enters organic production and chemical control options disappear, breeding and clever and more sustainable production practices will be critical to the survival of the industry," said Steven Knapp, director of the UC-Davis Strawberry Breeding Program, in an e-mail. "Both are significant challenges."

Other researchers are looking into a younger concept called anaerobic soil disinfestation, or ASD. In this method, farmers create an environment that is toxic for plant pathogens. They set up a layer in the soil of water and carbon for anaerobic bacteria to form that will kill pests like fungi.

It's a promising candidate, but it's not a one-shot solution for all pathogens like fumigants.

These methods are becoming increasingly important as demand for organic produce continues to rise. Still, those methods aren't surefire tactics, and growers working with large fields say steam is a useful tool, but hard to scale up economically.

Strawberries in our nation are a real pickle and California, where most hail from, will suffer if growers aren’t able to figure out how to produce and deliver them safely to our grocery stores while still in compliance with rules by federal authorities.

An easy band-aid solution would be another extension for methyl bromide, but that’s not a long-term solution because regulators will undoubtedly be waiting in the wings. What about moving the conversation to repeal these regulations? Fear over a fast-disappearing ozone layer drove strong government intervention and regulations, but we’re left to wonder whether anti-business ideology was also a strong factor.

Regulators (sometimes) mean well when they ban, banish, stall, or hamper products from the market. The problem is whether they allow for reasonable alternatives and or the time to develop such alternatives before eliminating the best current solutions. What would happen if someone told you your bike tires weren’t safe and forced you to yank them off but didn’t tell you what you could replace them with? You’ll be going nowhere fast and that’s where the strawberry industry finds itself.