Participants in an organic farming conference at Fresno State University watched as bugs were vacuumed out of a research plot and heard about plans for the University of California to certify it first organic acreage at one of its field stations.

They also took home pointers on getting – and staying – certified for organic production, along with information on research at the campus, where organic production has grown from one acre in 2008 to 15 today.

Tom Turini, a Fresno County farm advisor with UC Cooperative Extension, emphasized that many of the same management systems in place for conventional agriculture apply to organic producers as they seek to address plant disease.

“The best approach is management before you see the disease or in its early stages,” said Turini, who frequently speaks to conventional growers of processing tomatoes and other vegetable crops on the Central Valley’s west side.

Turini said care should be taken to avoid movement of pathogens from infected fields, including getting mud off equipment. He also said growers need to control weeds, which can harbor pests and disease, and they should disc under or otherwise dispose of piles of culled fruits or vegetables.

Richard Molinar, another UC farm advisor in Fresno County, talked about food safety and said he expects the California Department of Food and Agriculture will seek to “get a handle” on who is selling produce directly to shoppers.

“Certified markets are well regulated,” he said. But roadside stands, swap meets and community supported agriculture operations are not, Molinar said.

He said CDFA is looking into registering those who sell direct to consumers and perhaps requiring a simple self-certification that includes a food safety pamphlet of about six pages.

“You should at least have a manual on good agricultural practices,” he said. “The industry (including buyers and distributors) is telling famers you need something in place.”

Molinar opened his talk by stating that the Kearney Ag Center in Parlier this year will, for the first time, have organic certification on ten acres. He said it will be the first UC field station with certified acreage, although there are organically certified acres at UC campuses that include Davis and Santa Cruz.

Here are some other highlights from the conference:

Ron Whitehurst, pest control advisor with Rincon-Vitova Insectaries in Ventura, demonstrated use of a vacuum to collect insects in a field. He said use of the device is helpful in monitoring for the proportion of insect pests compared to beneficials.

It also can be used to move beneficials from one field to another or to eliminate pests.

Rincon-Vitova sells the device as well as beneficial insects and other biocontrol products. Whitehurst said a cheaper approach to collecting the insects can be to use a leaf vacuum and nylon stocking.

Whitehurst said a strip of alfalfa can be planted to draw cucumber beetle pests away from vegetables, and then they can be vacuumed out of the alfalfa. He also gave advice on keeping spider mites at bay by using misting nozzles.

Jan Dietrick, general manager of Rincon-Vitova and Whitehurst’s wife, said she is concerned about the growing of Roundup Ready alfalfa, saying it compromises a crop that she said “is a reservoir of diverse insect ecology.”

Molinar said that lacewings purchased from Rincon-Vitova have proven very effective at controlling aphids on a research crop of mini watermelons.

“We haven’t had to spray in three or four years,” he said.

Whitehurst said “habitat seed mixes” can also be planted to attract beneficial insects.