Pest control advisors (PCAs) and certified crop advisors (CCAs) can broaden their professional expertise by qualifying in both categories, says Steve Beckley, executive director of the Organic Fertilizer Association of California (OFAC).
“If you are both a PCA and a CCA, you are a complete deal,” the veteran fertilizer industry authority told an organic production seminar in Modesto.
PCAs, licensed by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), deal with chemical pesticides, organic pesticides, and beneficial insects.
CCAs are certified under the International CAA Program administered by the American Society of Agronomy, and are qualified in crop management, soils, nutrients, and water, as well as pest control.
“But you must know the rules and practices,” Beckley added. “This is especially important to organic growers, who have to spend three years to become certified.”
Certified organic growers and processors in California must meet requirements of the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP), as well as those of the CDFA.
OFAC, established in 2007 and composed of 15 organic fertilizer producers, distributors, and retailers in the state, jointly sponsored the seminar with the California Certified Crop Advisor Program.
Foremost in the organic realm, Beckley said, is maintenance of complete records by crop consultants so their grower clients in turn have records required to maintain their certification.
Materials allowed for organic use are governed by NOP and CDFA. The Washington State Department of Agriculture and the Organic Materials Review Institute are leading agencies in the development of data leading to registration of materials.
PCAs and CCAs need to be aware of the latest regulations, including monitoring Web sites of all the agencies. “Keep current with complete research on materials by the regulators, attend the various conferences, and even do custom research,” Beckley advised.
“And ask questions, which are the great things crop consultants can bring to the table. One of my theories is there are no original ideas, just good note-takers.” The broader expertise provides clients with a complete systems approach to farming.
Beckley also urged crop advisors become familiar with their clients’ markets, whether local farmers markets or processing plants, all of which have individual preferences and needs to maintain their organic certification. Export standards, too, need to be taken into account in meeting requirements of clients who market abroad.
Another speaker, Cindy Bishop, Suterra technical sales representative, Kingsburg, described mating disruption systems against codling moth, oriental fruit moth, and other pests with aerosol pheromone dispensers in organic orchards.
Suterra’s Puffer dispenses plumes of synthetic pheromone that drift through an orchard to overwhelm the natural attractant scent emitted by the target pest species females, causing males to become confused before they can mate. As a result, mating is stopped or delayed with season-long control.
The dispensers are distributed through the orchard once a biofix is made by pheromone trapping or field scouting to determine when overwintering populations begin to emerge.
A Puffer consists of a small cabinet containing an aerosol dispenser hung in the top one-third of a tree. A computerized clock actuates releases of pheromone at 15-minute intervals from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m.
“The key to its success is a can will last 200 days,” Bishop said. “In the case of codling moth, if you put up Puffers on April 1, they will last until October, so you have mating disruption until the end of the insect’s cycle.” She said she has 9,000 acres under Puffers and in the company’s in-field sampling of the devices, they have found only about 1 percent to malfunction. “The biggest problem is people forget to turn them on.”
The rate of Puffers is one per acre for Oriental fruit moth and one per two acre for codling moth. To avoid the “edge effect,” double rows are placed around the periphery of the orchard.
For best results, the devices need a minimum orchard of 40 acres, although in a location isolated from other tree crops, as little as 25 acres will work.
“You have to check with your neighbors to see what they are doing,” Bishop cautioned, “because if they are not using disruption, there may be mated insects coming into your orchard.”
Specialized traps are available to detect moths in orchards that are under disruption by either dispensers or Puffers.
Citing University of California research at the Locke Ranch at Lockeford, Bishop said more than 400 acres of organic walnuts there have been under Puffers for five years with successful codling moth control.
Conversion from conventional sprays to Puffers, however, takes time, Bishop stated. “For the first year, you continue with your usual spray program and add the Puffers. In the second year, you see the populations are down and you monitor with DA Combo traps and spray only as necessary. In the third year, you begin to see you are reducing your pesticide use.”
For organic operations, she said, “it can be more difficult without pesticides having a long residual, but you can see that mating disruption does lower populations.”
Also on hand for a presentation at the seminar was Cliff Ohmart, director of sustainable winegrowing with the Lodi Winegrape Commission. Ohmart, a PCA, has led the effort during the past five years to place 16,000 acres of wine grapes from Lodi to Clarksburg under certification by the Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing. Since their end product is wine, the growers refer to themselves as winegrowers.
Although particulars may differ, sustainable winegrowing is basically “good business,” he said. “It’s all about attention to detail with a focus on everything, including soil, water use, pest management, the grapes themselves, air quality, energy use, habitat, and employees.”
It is not simply a list of practices, but an approach to staying in business, with the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, he added.
Sustainable farming, like organics, has been evolving since the 1920s. But unlike organics, it has not been codified at the national level and includes flexibility to meet emerging issues.
Starting with “a sustainable vision,” Ohmart said, it is economically viable, environmentally sound, and socially equitable.
Participants in the Lodi district program are guided by a workbook to evaluate performance in terms of sustainability as they implement practices into day-to-day operations.