Louisiana Master Farmer Program: A Bridge Between Regulatory Agencies and Agriculture

Linda Benedict  |  9/16/2015 9:16:33 PM

The Louisiana Master Farmer program serves as a bridge between regulatory agencies and agriculture.

“We are the program that producers come to for environmental guidance and regulatory compliance, especially since we have the certification that presumes compliance with state soil and water regulations,” said Ernest Girouard, Master Farmer coordinator.  

Producers completing the program demonstrate regulatory compliance in three phases. First, they attend environmental classroom education, followed by the second phase of attending of field days to view commodity-specific best management practices. The final phase is the development and implementation of a farm-specific conservation plan. The certification is issued by the Louisiana State Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry.  

The program continues to grow, with 2,500 participants in some phase of the program. So far, 206 are certified as Master Farmers.  

“More than 1.7 million acres in Louisiana now use conservation practices or have participated in current farm bill conservation programs,” Girouard said.  

A decision is expected soon on regulation of farm fuel storage tanks. Whatever regulations that come out of the decision will be included in the Master Farmer instructional material to help farmers comply with the new rules, Girouard said. Recent Master Farmer activities include:

  • The organizing of two listening sessions in Louisiana for public comment on a revision of the Clean Water Act, known as the Waters of the U.S. 
  • Partnering with Ducks Unlimited and the Natural Resource Conservation Service with a testing program for irrigation wells. A trailer with diagnostic equipment can determine pumping efficiency of a well and whether a pump should be repaired or replaced. Also, the testing can help a farmer decide if a diesel-fueled pump should be replaced with an electric pump, what size should be installed, and when the change would pay for itself. 
  • Developing a program with LSU AgCenter poultry researchers for poultry producers to comply with state and federal regulations for chicken production houses.  

In addition, the Master Farmer program works closely with the LSU AgCenter Water Resource Center at the Red River Research Station near Bossier City to study how the state’s water resources can be better managed to meet the needs of agriculture and a growing population.  

The Master Farmer program obtained four grants totaling more than $150,000 to study several water-related issues, including sediment loss and irrigation efficiency. One grant was awarded to study use of reservoirs for storage of surface water and whether runoff water from fields contains enough nutrients to reduce the amount of fertilizer needed for a crop.  

A Master Farmer University was started in 2014 at the request of producers to streamline the process of fulfilling the first two phases of the program. The first day is educational training on the basics of environmental stewardship and complying with regulations. On the second day, participants attend a field day or visit a farm related to their commodity.  

James Hendrix, Master Farmer area agent in north Louisiana, is working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Tensas-Concordia Soil and Water Conservation District on a project to improve water quality in Lake St. Joseph in Tensas Parish.  

The partners are assisting agricultural producers with selection and implementation of site-specific best management practices (BMPs) in the 18,000-acre watershed that drains into the lake, as well as measuring the effects by monthly sampling water in the lake.  

“We are already witnessing successes from this three-year study,” Hendrix said.  

The state Department of Environmental Quality has classified the lake as an impaired body of water because of turbidity, or muddy water.  

More than 90 percent of the producers are participating in the project, and monitoring data is indicating a significant decrease in turbidity, which is a major step toward the goal of declassification of the lake’s impairment.  

Hendrix said the farmers in the area have been working on improvements to reduce soil erosion that has contributed to turbidity.  

Simple improvements such as installing drainage pipe have solved many erosion problems quickly, he said. Other improvements that involve major changes in historical farming practices, such as shifting to no-till or limited tillage and cover crops, will require more time to implement, he said.  

“There’s a lot of interest in this project as a model that can be used for other lakes in the state,” Hendrix said, adding that new information from the project will be incorporated into the Master Farmer training program  

Donna Morgan, LSU AgCenter county agent and Louisiana Master Farmer Program area agent, completed a two-year study this spring comparing different seeding methods for ryegrass pasture. She included no-till, prepared seedbed and overseeding, along with an unplanted check, all at the Dean Lee Research Station.  

The forage available at each grazing did not vary by a significant amount when the different planting methods were compared, she said.  

There was a significant difference in grazing intervals,” she said.   The prepared seedbed was available for grazing earlier, and less time was needed before the grass was tall enough for regrazing by the 16 mature cows used in the test.  

Water quality was measured in the runoff after rains, Morgan said, and a higher concentration of nitrates was found in rainwater collected from the prepared seedbed plot. There were no differences in the other chemicals tested.  

Morgan said the study’s findings will be included in future Master Farmer classes.  

She plans to do another test this fall to look at the effectiveness of urea treated with Agrotain compared to a slow-release fertilizer.  

Bruce Schultz is a writer and photographer with LSU AgCenter Communications.

The summer 2015 issue of Louisiana Agriculture magazine includes articles on a variety of topics that affect Louisiana’s agriculture industry and the environment – water management at Catahoula Lake, 4-H youth wetland programs, artificial reefs for water conservation, corn nitrogen management in saturated soil conditions, and more. 36 pages

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