The 21st Ecological Farming Conference will be held Jan. 24-27 at the Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove, near Monterey, Calif.

This conference annually attracts over 1,200 farmers, produce industry representatives, educators, researchers, activists, environmentalists, students and consumers who have an interest in sustainable agriculture and organic farming.

Many mainstream farmers attend and participate in conference workshops, and over the years, many have learned fundamental practices of organic farming. These techniques, such as the use of cover crops, beneficial insects, crop rotations and compost, have become more widely used in conventional agriculture.

Organic farming has become the fastest growing segment of the American food industry, conference sponsors report, grossing over $5 billion and growing over 20 percent annually for the past five years.

The conference begins on Wednesday with an all-day bus tour to four farms in the Pajaro Valley.

Over the next three days, there are 60 workshops and three plenary sessions,ranging in subject from genetic engineering to farm production techniques to livestock to California water supply to updates on organic standards.

The recent release of the final USDA rule on organic production is the subject of a workshop on Jan. 25. Two years ago the federal government received input from the public on the first draft of the rule, which initially allowed food irradiation, genetic engineering and sewage sludge fertilizer for food labeled organic. The new standards do not permit these practices for organic foods.