Master Farmer Program makes sense, saves cents

Linda Benedict, Mendoza, Carrie  |  4/5/2005 1:15:03 AM

Carrie Castille

In January 2001, the LSU AgCenter offered the first Louisiana Master Farmer training session in Vermilion Parish. More than 60 producers attended to become more knowledgeable about Louisiana environmental regulations, specifically water quality and nonpoint-source standards. Since then, the program has offered 38 training sessions and has enrolled more than 1,300 producers in half of Louisiana’s 64 parishes.

The program began as a result of the implementation of the Clean Water Act’s Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) provision. This provision sets standards for the amount of any pollutant that can enter a water body. The provision, regula-tory by nature, allowed for agricultur-al producers to use the best available technology that they have to develop their own solutions on a voluntary basis. The goal of the Louisiana Master Farmer program is to address the environmental concerns related to production agriculture, as well as enhance production and management skills critical for the continued viability of Louisiana agriculture.

The Master Farmer program consists of three phases. In the first, a producer attends eight hours of environmental stewardship training on issues such as the Clean Water Act, Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs), best management practices and conservation programs.

The second phase includes a visit to a commodity-specific model farm demonstrating the implementation of best management practices in their watershed.

In the third phase, the producer must develop a farm-specific, comprehensive conservation plan.

Though voluntary, the program has an incentive-based structure. Producers ultimately make the decisions on the best management practices they will implement. Upon successful completion of all three phases, a producer will be presumed in compliance with Louisiana soil and water conservation requirements. This presumption-of-compliance incentive was passed unanimously in the 2003 legislative session and offers produc-ers another reason to become certified.

Co-sponsors of the Master Farmer program include the Louisiana Farmer Bureau Federation, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF), the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) and the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

State and federal partners of the program include the American Sugar Cane League, Louisiana Association of Conservation Districts, Louisiana Cattlemen’s Association, Louisiana Rice Grower’s Association, Louisiana Soybean Association, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Potash & Phosphate Institute.

Louisiana leads the nation in its efforts to address environmental challenges in agriculture and has signed an agreement with Arkansas and Mississippi to develop a Master Farmer tri-state initiative.

The Master Farmer program already has a spin-off in the works — the Master Cattle Producer program.

If you are interested in signing up to become a Master Farmer or Cattle Producer, you may contact any LSU AgCenter local parish extension office.

(This article appeared in the spring 2004 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

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