Heroes in Science

Linda Benedict  |  1/3/2018 9:22:50 PM

Linda Foster Benedict

Of the four issues of Louisiana Agriculture magazine that we publish each year, two of them — fall and spring — are focus issues. They provide in-depth information about one topic of vital importance to our environment and the economy.

For this issue, fall 2017, the topic is nutrient management, an abstract term that means LSU AgCenter scientists are working hard to keep our finite water supply wholesome and prevent environmental degradation caused by runoff from crop and livestock production.

The nutrients that need management include the nitrogen and phosphorus in fertilizers, which are absolutely essential to growing plants and replenishing the soil in agricultural fields. But if too much fertilizer is applied and the plants can’t use it all, these nutrients move into waterbodies and cause pollution.

A prime aim of research conducted by AgCenter scientists is to help farmers apply the right rate of fertilizer in the right location when it is needed most by the crop. This requires the use of up-to-date technology, such as tractors equipped with computers and satellite mapping. Farmers can no longer afford to rely on tradition, intuition or the way they’ve always done it to determine fertilizer needs.

The same is true with irrigation, a tool increasingly used by Louisiana farmers to stay competitive. AgCenter scientists are intensely studying when, where and how to irrigate to conserve water and prevent sediment and pathogens, as well as nutrients, from getting into nearby streams.

Other areas of research include conservation tillage to prevent erosion, the use of grassy areas between crop fields and streams to filter the flow, and the planting of cover crops on fields between seasons to replenish the soil with nutrients and also prevent erosion.

AgCenter scientists are on the front lines across the state conducting experiments to determine the appropriate farming techniques that work best for Louisiana farmers. AgCenter extension specialists take the recommendations from the research to the farmers through educational meetings, workshops, publications and online information.

In addition, the AgCenter has developed the Louisiana Master Farmer Program in which farmers devise conservation plans unique to their farms. Since the beginning of the program in 2001, which was the first of its kind in the country, 3,000 producers have participated and 239 people have been certified as Louisiana Master Farmers.

But we’re not limiting ourselves just to farmers in our quest to protect the environment. AgCenter scientists also work with home gardeners, professional landscapers and golf course managers to help them use fertilizer and pesticides more efficiently.

The same principles for the removal of harmful chemicals from animal waste in agriculture can be applied to human and industrial waste from municipalities and rural residences along Louisiana waterways. For example, AgCenter specialists are actively working with the community groups committed to cleaning up Lake Pontchartrain in south Louisiana and Lake St. Joseph in north Louisiana.

Even though water resources in the state appear abundant, no one in Louisiana can afford to allow the buildup of unwanted chemicals and sediment in our rivers and streams. Regulations are necessary in a democracy to balance private interests and the public good. But these regulations must be based on facts determined by scientists, including those at the AgCenter. Farmers can still make a profit — in fact, even make more of a profit over the long run — if they implement conservation practices. The benefits “seem real and achievable,” says one of Louisiana’s premier farmers, Jay Hardwick, of Newellton.

AgCenter scientists are heroes, helping everybody in the state find ways to improve the quality of life by sustaining our natural resources. This issue of Louisiana Agriculture provides a glimpse at some of the many projects they are engaged in to help preserve our precious water and keep Louisiana farmers in business.

Linda Foster Benedict is a professor in LSU AgCenter Communications and editor of Louisiana Agriculture.

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Two generations of the Hardwick family – left to right, sons Marshall and Mead and father Jay – work to improve all aspects of agricultural production on their farm near Newellton in Tensas Parish. But they focus intensely on improving nutrient management, the practice of efficiently fertilizing the soil to grow a profitable crop while also protecting the environment. They implement many of the practices described in the fall 2017 issue of Louisiana Agriculture magazine. Photo by Kyle Peveto

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