Carrie Mendoza, Schultz, Bruce | 6/23/2005 2:21:56 AM
Participants in the LSU AgCenter’s Master Farmer program got a firsthand look last week at best management practices used on a rice and crawfish farm in St. Martin Parish.
"The goal of this program is to improve water quality in production agriculture," said Carrie Mendoza, who directs the Master Farmer for the LSU AgCenter.
But she said farms were not chosen as models because they are pristine displays of agriculture. Instead, they are intended to be representative of the possibilities for other working farms in the area.
"These farms were selected as typical farms in each watershed," she explained.
The Durand farm, which was the model farm involved in the June 16 tour, is in the Teche-Vermilion Watershed and is owned by the five Durand brothers.
Water quality monitoring units at model farms across the state will be activated by rainfall, and samples will be collected automatically. The sampling will be conducted for three years, Mendoza said.
Tom Hymel, an LSU AgCenter watershed agent in the area, said the 2,000-acre Durand farm has undergone considerable improvements in the past 20 years.
"If I could show you pictures from then, you wouldn’t even recognize it," Hymel said.
Jeff Durand said his father cleared land for the farm in the 1950s. Crawfish production began in the mid-1960s, and rice production started in the 1970s.
Jeff Durand said the land has been laser-leveled with a slight slope.
"We like to have a little bit of fall to get the water off quickly," he said.
In some areas, as much as 18 inches was removed. To replace nutrients in those areas, crawfish shells were used, Durand said, explaining that grid sampling determined where nutrients had to be added.
"We’re giving up some yield in some places, but we’re gaining in other areas," Durand said.
Durand said steps are taken to avoid rutting the fields.
For example, flat-bottom boats, propelled by Go-Devil engines, are used to harvest crawfish, he said. Combines that use tracks instead of wheels also reduce rutting, he said.
Durand also said fewer levees are used to farm rice, reducing the amount of work.
"We didn’t know we were doing best management practices when we started," he said.
Dr. Johnny Saichuk, LSU AgCenter rice specialist, said environmental regulators blamed much of the sediment problems in waterways on rice farmers.
He said LSU AgCenter recommendations, such as no-till planting and vegetated filter strips, helped improve many of the problems.
Dr. Ray McClain, LSU AgCenter crawfish specialist, said farmers can reduce sediment flowing into waterways by not draining crawfish ponds for at least 48 hours after the last harvest.
"Wait as long as you can," he said.
In another tip, McClain pointed out that ditches lined with vegetation can have as much as an 89 percent reduction in suspended solids.
Dr. Bill Branch, an LSU AgCenter agricultural engineer and water quality specialist, demonstrated how a multiple inlet irrigation system could be used. The polyethylene pipe has reduced water usage in Arkansas by 26 percent, he said.