Linda Benedict, Rustum Girouard, | 1/11/2016 7:24:30 AM
Louisiana has stepped out ahead of all other states in the nation in helping farmers learn to voluntarily comply with stricter environmental standards governing water quality. This has happened because of the LSU AgCenter’s Master Farmer Program.
A group of 29 farmers will join the ranks of Louisiana's Master Farmers on Jan. 9, 2014, when they are recognized for this achievement at a ceremony in Lafayette. That will bring the total to 197 farmers who have earned this status, which means they have not only learned the latest in conservation practices, but they are implementing them on their farms.
The Master Farmer Program, which got its start in 2001 as a way for farmers to learn up-to-date, research-based conservation practices in a comprehensive manner, is a partnership among the LSU AgCenter, Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation, Louisiana Cattleman’s Association, the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF), which has the authority by law through the Commissioner of Agriculture to approve the certification.
“Numerous agricultural commodity groups and state natural resource agencies also endorse the program,” said Bill Richardson, LSU vice president for agriculture.
The Master Farmer program was established as an innovative way to help farmers learn to reduce runoff into Louisiana’s waterways and improve water quality. The premise of the program is to encourage farmers to voluntarily change some of their practices to address environmental concerns.
“The practices they adopt usually cost them money,” Richardson said. “But the long-term effect is a more efficient operation that will be more profitable. The public benefits because the ultimate result is cleaner air and water for everybody.”
Although the incentive is water quality, the program gives LSU AgCenter educators the opportunity to roll into the curriculum the latest research-based information concerning production, management and marketing.
“Farming is big business. And with any good business, you have to have a continuing education program,” said Ernest Girouard, coordinator of the Master Farmer program for the LSU AgCenter. Before he retired from farming, he earned the Master Farmer certification in 2006.
Earning ‘Master Farmer’ Status
To become a Master Farmer, participants must successfully complete the program’s three phases. The first involves classroom instruction on such topics as pesticides, nutrient management, hypoxia and nonpoint-source pollution. The second phase includes tours and field days at model farms. These farms have already implemented some of the practices that Master Farmers are to duplicate.
In the third phase, the farmer must put together a conservation plan and timetable for implementation of management practices. The farmer does this in cooperation with the NRCS in Louisiana and LSU AgCenter specialists.
“We build relationships with farmers through this program,” said Kevin Norton, NRCS state conservationist. “Our challenge is to be there to assist farmers and help them solve problems in the future.”
The LSU AgCenter is one of 10 institutions of higher education in the Louisiana State University System. Headquartered in Baton Rouge, it provides educational services in every parish and conducts research that contributes to the economic development of the state. The LSU AgCenter plays an integral role in supporting agricultural industries, enhancing rural areas and the environment, and improving the quality of life through its family and 4-H youth programs.