Johnny Morgan, Girouard, Ernest | 3/23/2010 12:40:26 AM
Participants in Louisiana Master Farmer Program may have financial assistance available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to implement conservation practices on their land.
Ernest Girouard, LSU AgCenter coordinator of the Louisiana Master Farmer Program, said the program, which began in 2001, consists of three phases.
“First, there’s the classroom instruction phase on environmental stewardship,” Girouard said. “Then, attendance at Model Farm Field Days, which include on-farm viewing of implemented, commodity-specific conservation practices. Finally, the producer develops and implements a farm-specific conservation plan on his or her own farm.”
Once producers complete the Master Farmer Program, they are eligible to be certified by the Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture in environmental stewardship.
Girouard said participants have two options for applying for assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), which was established in the last federal farm bill.
“EQIP provides financial assistance to producers to help offset the cost of implementing conservation practices on the participant’s land,” he said.
In option one, producers apply for assistance at their local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office and if they have completed at least one phase of the Master Farmer program are eligible for extra points, which increase the possibility of being selected.
Under the second option, program participants who are in Phase III or have been certified and either have identified new resource concerns or have acquired additional land are eligible to apply for special EQIP assistance. This special EQIP opportunity is available through the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative, a joint program of the LSU AgCenter and NRCS.
“Under this option, NRCS provides a higher financial assistance payment to implement their conservation practices than under the regular EQIP program,” Girouard said.
He said most participants find Phase III of the program to be the most challenging because it is when the bulk of the implementation takes place.
Phase III of the program consists of requesting, developing and implementing a comprehensive plan or resource management system for the participant’s entire farming operation. To begin Phase III, participants must meet with the district conservationist to begin the planning process.
Phase III includes a number of variables that determine how long it takes to complete the program, Girouard said. Some of these include size of the operation, resource problems that exist on the farm, whether the land is rented or owned and finances as well as conservation and farming goals.