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Firm Sells Seeds to Keep the Good Bugs Around : Rincon-Vitova Insectaries of Ventura promotes crops that serve as food and breeding grounds for friendly predators.


Planting a crop for the express purpose of attracting insects may sound like a crazy idea, but that's exactly what the people at Rincon-Vitova Insectaries Inc. of Ventura are recommending to their customers.

The firm, which became famous for breeding and marketing beneficial insects used by farmers to protect against crop-damaging bugs, is now promoting an additional process, one that further reduces the need for chemical agricultural sprays.

According to Jan Dietrick, general manager of the firm, the idea is to plant what she called "refuge crops," which serve as food and breeding grounds for the friendly predators. This keeps the beneficial bugs hanging around, defending farmers' interests. Farmers get the equivalent of a permanent army supply of guard dogs and guard-dog houses.

A 10-pound bag of mixed seeds, trade-named "Beneficial Blend," will grow an acre's worth of rye, barley, clover, vetch, alfalfa, etc., adjacent to or among a farmer's regular orchards or row crops. The blossoms--all appearing at different times--are a treat for the good bugs.

Dietrick explained the odd contradiction in marketing these seeds right alongside the containers of beneficial insects. "We're a bit unique. We promote the whole habitat. It does hurt our sales of insects that we sell the means for the farmer to attract and breed his own insects," she said.

But there are still plenty of farmers buying beneficial bugs from the firm. After all, growing refuge crops takes acreage away from cash crops. And Dietrick notes with a smile, "there are still billions of acres throughout the world which can be transitioned from chemical farming to sustainable farming."

Rincon-Vitova is perhaps the oldest, but it is not the only firm supplying beneficial insects to a worldwide market of progressive farmers. The process, using natural means to produce bugs and their habitats, allows other companies and the individual farmers to do this everywhere.

Dietrick's father, Deke, the founder of the firm and a respected expert in this branch of agriculture, has a thriving consultant practice throughout California. The biggest names in agribusiness--Dole, Paramount and Gallo--are making the transition to non-chemical growing, using both beneficial bugs and refuge crops, according to Dietrick senior, whose services are often sought by the operators of the Gallo family-owned vineyards.

This trend has created several kinds of new businesses. Consumer interest in fruits and vegetables produced with minimal chemical use is increasing. Home gardeners are adopting these growing methods and ordering beneficial insects and special seeds.

The State Department of Agriculture and the University of California are finding programs to expand this technique as a way to restore the health of the nation's topsoil and the health of people who work that soil.

This fall in San Francisco, the leaders of this trend in agribusiness, including the Dietricks, will convene to discuss "Bioremediation: Decontaminating the Earth."

Sometimes called "The World Series of Organic Gardening," this event, held annually for the last five years, is staged by a Santa Fe, N.M., firm called Seeds of Change.

"Replicative"is the word Jan Dietrick uses when talking about the conference, the seeds and the bugs. "We face the same questions a good doctor faces--should we promote drugs or something the patient can do, something from nature, a healthy biological lifestyle?"


* FYI: For information on Rincon-Vitova Insectaries Inc., call 643-5407. For information on the San Francisco conference being held by the Seeds of Change company, call (505) 986-0366.

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