Carrie Mendoza, Schultz, Bruce, Morgan, Donna S. | 5/4/2005 2:28:21 AM
LSU AgCenter representatives met Thursday (April 28) with the state Department of Environmental Quality officials to explain how farmers are voluntarily adopting best management practices through the Master Farmer program.
DEQ Secretary Michael McDaniel said he liked what he heard during the day-long session.
"I continue to be very pleased with the progress this whole program is making," he said. "It meshes well with the governor’s water quality goals."
McDaniel said he was also encouraged by the inter-agency cooperation.
"It’s an absolute pleasure to see people working together," he said. "This is the way I like to see environmental problems solved – voluntarily with people committed. And it’s producing results."
Louisiana’s Master Farmer program, the first of its kind in the country, was established four years ago and is designed to teach farmers how to maximize production efficiency while also protecting the environment. Overseen by the LSU AgCenter, the program involves classroom education, model farms and the implementation of conservation plans by individual farmers.
The program involves cooperation from a number of government and private organizations and has led to spinoffs for specific commodity groups.
McDaniel and other DEQ personnel, including Deputy Secretary Karen Gautreaux, toured two model farms involved in the program – the Adams cattle ranch near Kaplan and the Lounsberry rice and crawfish farm near Lake Arthur. So far, the LSU AgCenter has identified 12 model farms across the state to demonstrate best management practices in use, and more farms will be designated, officials say.
The DEQ has provided some of the funding for the program.
Dr. Paul Coreil, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor for extension, said the Master Farmer program depends on research and extension personnel but its real success has been the tremendous support and commitment from farmers and commodity groups statewide.
Likewise, Dr. David Boethel, vice chancellor for LSU AgCenter research, said the Master Farmer program has been nationally recognized, and its success is due to the cooperation of state and federal agencies.
Carrie Mendoza, director of the Master Farmer program for the LSU AgCenter, said the program’s main focus is water quality, and 1,600 agricultural producers have voluntarily enrolled so far.
Mendoza said some of the practices stressed in the program include conservation tillage, crop residue management, use of cover crops, stream bank protection, grazing techniques and no-till planting. Spinoff programs include Master Poultry Producers and Master Cattle Producers.
Mendoza said an agreement also has been signed with Mississippi and Arkansas to develop a tri-state program.
Master Farmer was patterned after the Master Logger program started by the Louisiana Forestry Association, she said.
C.A. "Buck" Vandersteen, the forestry association’s director, said 10,000 people have undergone training through Master Logger classes. The effect has been a noticeable change in forestry practices with an emphasis on erosion control, he said.
Other states have devised mandatory regulations for forestry operations that have added considerable costs to harvesting timber, he said.
"The non-regulatory programs are outperforming the regulatory programs," Vandersteen said. "Non-regulatory programs use the intuition and intelligence of the people out there working."
Under the Master Logger program’s voluntary restrictions, loggers who can’t show proof of their completion of the Master Logger program can’t sell timber at lumber mills, Vandersteen said.
Dr. Ernest Girouard of Kaplan, a rice farmer who chairs the Louisiana Rice Research Board, said he has participated in national agriculture organizations, and agency cooperation in Louisiana is unequaled.
"There’s not one state that can say they put people together like we have here," Girouard said. "We are the envy of other states."
Girouard gave an overview of environmental improvements that could qualify for financial assistance through conservation districts. He also said farmers expect that voluntary measures will prevent regulations being imposed by government.
Don Gohmert, Natural Resources Conservation Service state conservationist, said best management practices will be adopted "that don’t take away from the bottom line." If land is being abused, he said that will be evident in the level of water quality.
Dr. Steve Linscombe, a regional director for the LSU AgCenter in southwestern Louisiana who also oversees its Rice Research Station, said the rice industry has improved its practices. Sediment-laden water has been reduced because of new planting methods and the use of Clearfield, a herbicide-resistant variety of rice. Laser-leveling, drop pipes and underground irrigation are saving water, he said.
Farmers Rene Simon of St. Mary Parish and Brian Howard of Lake Providence also gave details on their no-till practices. Howard said he is saving on diesel fuel by using the method for row crops, while Simon said his sugarcane yields haven’t suffered.
"We haven’t cultivated this field in three years," Simon said, showing a slide of a cane field.
At the Craig Adams ranch, Donna Morgan, extension associate for the Master Farmer program, explained how water monitoring devices are being used to learn what nutrients are leaving an 11-acre pasture after rain. Adams has a system of shallow parallel ditches, 78 feet apart, to drain his field quickly.
At Errol Lounsberry’s farm, Morgan said water monitoring will be conducted to determine nutrient runoff as well as suspended and dissolved solids.
Lounsberry said he has been using laser leveling since 1986. He said he prefers a slope of three-fourths of an inch on his fields.
"Errol is one of our most innovative farmers," Linscombe said.
Successful completion of the Master Farmer program requires attending classroom sessions on best management practices and a variety of other educational sessions, as well as attendance at a field day at a model farm. The final phase requires the farmers in the program to write and implement a conservation plan for their farms.
The Master Farmer program is a collaboration that includes DEQ, the LSU AgCenter, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its National Resources Conservation Service, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Industry partners include the Louisiana Soybean Association, Louisiana Cattleman’s Association, Louisiana Rice Growers Association, Louisiana Farm Bureau, American Sugar Cane League, National Association of Conservation Districts and the Potash and Phosphate Institute.