Conservation Plans and the Master Farmer Program

Irvin Hendrix  |  3/7/2018 4:55:41 PM

Ernest Girouard and James Hendrix

The Louisiana Master Farmer Program continues to be recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a national leader in promoting the protection of the environment, natural resources and agricultural sustainability. More than 3,000 producers and landowners participate in the program, representing more than 2 million acres of farmland, and 239 people have been certified as Louisiana Master Farmers so far.

To become a Master Farmer involves completing three phases of the program. Phase I takes place in a classroom setting, where participants study environmental issues. Phase II is completed by attending an approved field day that features the use of management practices that address environmental issues on the farm.

In Phase III — the most complex part of the program — participants must implement a comprehensive conservation plan. It must include the entire farming operation located within a specified watershed or drainage basin. The Louisiana Master Farmer Program staff works with producers and landowners, Natural Resource Conservation Service personnel, and soil and water conservation district staff. This includes farm visits and meetings to discuss issues related to soil, water, air, plants, animals and energy that need to be addressed to reduce negative environmental impacts as well as improve productivity and profitability of the farm. Equipment and other resources are noted along with cropping and tillage systems, the farm’s history and pesticide applications.

This information is analyzed to help producers formulate a course of action developed into a plan known as a resource management system. These are living documents that allow producers to design their own approaches and make modifications as needed. The plan normally contains multiple conservation practices or sequential practices applied as a whole-farm system, which has been proven more effective in addressing conservation issues than a single approach.

Plans are designed to address issues such as:

  • Erosion prevention by reducing the soil’s exposure to wind and water to keep topsoil in place.
  • Restoring organic matter to help bind soil together to store water and nutrients that plants need.
  • Biodiversity by plant selection to make the farm’s ecosystem more diverse and provide wildlife habitat.
  • Nutrient storage by using cover crops that take up extra nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, preventing losses to air and water.
  • Weed suppression by using crop residue to help prevent weeds from growing and to reduce water loss.
  • Reducing irrigation water use by recycling drainage water or reservoir storage.

Ernest Girouard, now retired, was the coordinator for the Louisiana Master Farmer Program. James Hendrix is an extension environment/watersheds agent headquartered in St. Joseph, Louisiana.

(This article appears in the fall 2017 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

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Fourteen people were certified as Louisiana Master Farmers in 2016. They were recognized at a luncheon held Jan. 12 at the Best Western of Alexandria Inn & Suites & Conference Center. From left to right, Ernest Girouard, LSU AgCenter coordinator of the Master Farmer Program; James Wicker, of Union Parish; Ty Rogers, of West Carroll Parish; Mike Strain, commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry; Roy Varnado, of Acadia Parish; Scott Fontenot, of Evangeline Parish; Keith McCallum, of West Feliciana Parish; Todd Fontenot, of Evangeline Parish; J.D. Fontenot, of Evangeline Parish; Tim Wild, of Jefferson Davis Parish; Horace Steve Theriot, of Lafayette Parish; Bill Wild, of Jefferson Davis Parish; John Pitre, NRCS state resource conservationist; George Shepherd, of Madison Parish; and Bill Richardson, LSU vice president for agriculture. Also certified but not present at the luncheon are Charlie Fontenot, of St. Landry Parish; Joshua Sonnier, of Vermilion Parish; and Jimmy Wilson, of Morehouse Parish. Photo by Olivia McClure

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