The chemical compound chloropicrin was first synthesized in 1848 by Scottish chemist John Stenhouse and first applied to agriculture in 1920, when it was used to cure tomato “soil sickness.” Over the next decade, it was used to restore pineapple productivity in Hawaii and to address soil fungal problems in California. Over time, it began to be widely used as a fungicide, herbicide, insecticide, and nematicide.
Used as a preplant soil treatment measure, chloropicrin is said to suppress soilborne pathogenic fungi and some nematodes and insects. With a half-life of hours to days, it is completely digested by soil organisms before the crop is planted, making it safe and efficient.
Chloropicrin is said not to sterilizes soil and does not deplete the ozone layer, as the compound is destroyed by sunlight, according to its manufacturer.
According to Hutchinson, chloropicrin-treated soil has a healthier root system, improved water use, and more efficient fertilizer use.