Donna Morgan, Coolman, Denise | 7/26/2005 12:50:37 AM
LAKE PROVIDENCE – Brian Howard admits he sometimes wonders why he makes the effort to grow crops using conservation tillage methods. But then he says he sees the long-term benefits and realizes "it’s all worth it."
Conservation tillage was just one of several best management practices Louisiana Master Farmer candidates learned when they toured Howard’s model farm here Thursday (July 21).
The tour, hosted by the LSU AgCenter and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, offered row crop producers from the Ouachita Watershed who are enrolled in the Louisiana Master Farmer program an opportunity to complete the second phase of the AgCenter’s Master Farmer educational program.
Among the topics covered were conservation tillage, water quality challenges, prescribed practices for row crop producers, conservation plan development, irrigation water management and other conservation-related topics.
The event was conducted on Howard’s at Lake Providence, which is designated as a model farm as part of the LSU AgCenter’s Louisiana Master Farmer educational program. Howard’s farm was selected as one of 12 model farms across the state to show producers how to use best management practices, known as BMPs, for short.
"The purpose of these model farms is to allow farmers to show others in their watershed how certain practices can be implemented and how those practices can benefit their farming operations and the environment," said Donna Morgan, an LSU AgCenter extension associate working with the Master Farmer program.
Howard is a row crop producer in the Ouachita Watershed and a Louisiana Master Farmer candidate who farms a little more than 2,000 acres in Lake Providence. He grows cotton, corn, milo, soybeans and wheat.
He also has been successfully involved in conservation efforts, specifically conservation tillage, for a number of years. Howard says he does not use no-till or conservation tillage methods for immediate results but rather for the long-term effects his conservation efforts will have on the environment.
"Some days I ride through my fields and wonder, why am I doing this?" Howard said during the field day last week. "It’s not an easy task. I know it’s a long-term commitment, and, in the end, it will be worth it because what I’m doing is helping protect the waterways in this area of the state."
Howard started using conservation tillage about nine years ago. He said he started seeing the benefits of it and has continued to use it.
"I’ve started seeing less silt in the ditches," Howard said. "So, I know it (conservation tillage) is working."
Conservation tillage reduces soil erosion by protecting the soil surface and allowing water to infiltrate rather than running off. Reducing soil erosion is important, because erosion removes the productive layer of topsoil, which many times contains valuable organic matter, nutrients and pesticides. Soil removed from fields eventually ends up as sediment in streams, rivers or lakes – and that sediment collects and reduces their water-holding capacity. The added nutrients and pollutants that end up in the waterways then cause many other environmental problems.
In addition to reducing soil erosion, Howard said he has seen other benefits from using the conservation tillage methods.
"Some of the other benefits I’ve seen from using the no-till method include using less labor and less fuel," he said. "For us to stay profitable, no-till was the answer."
Howard said the amount of runoff from his fields has decreased and that the water bodies on his property have become clearer. Howard said he also has been able to reduce the use of machinery for cultivating. This not only saves on the "wear and tear" but affects little things such as replacing fewer parts and purchasing newer equipment less often.
Morgan said Howard’s farm is an "excellent example" of what can be done with conservation tillage.
"Brian Howard is an innovator in the northeastern part of the state," Morgan said. "He is always looking to improve his operation and use as many conservation practices as possible."
As part of the Louisiana Master Farmer educational program, model farms were selected in various regions of the state to represent the major watersheds and the crops grown in those regions. The model farms are spread across five of Louisiana’s priority watersheds, Morgan said, adding that those include the Mermentau, Vermilion-Teche, Calcasieu, Ouachita and Red River watersheds.
Louisiana has stepped ahead of other states in the nation in helping producers learn how to voluntarily comply with stricter environmental standards governing water quality. The Louisiana Master Farmer Program was established four years ago as an innovative way to help farmers learn to reduce runoff into Louisiana’s waterways and to improve water quality. The premise of the program is to encourage farmers to voluntarily change some of their practices to address environmental concerns by using best management practices.
The Master Farmer program is comprised of three phases. The first consists of eight hours of classroom instruction on environmental stewardship. The second involves a visit to a commodity-specific model farm, such as Howard’s. And the third requires each participant to develop farm-specific conservation plans.
For more information on the program, go to www.lsuagcenter.com/masterfarmer.