Master Programs Educate Louisianians on Best Practices

Donna Gentry, Edwards, Ashley K, Shields, Sara Rogers

The Louisiana Agriculture magazine logo stands against a white background.

Donna Gentry, Sara R. Shields and Ashley K. Edwards

Louisiana’s Cooperative Extension Service offers a number of programs aimed at educating clientele about improving management skills, increasing profitability and, ultimately, becoming more sustainable. These “master” programs educate home gardeners, agronomic producers and cattlemen about best management practices that help improve water quality, soil health and overall conservation efforts for long-term sustainability through the Master Gardener, Master Farmer and Master Cattleman programs.

Louisiana Master Farmer Program

Louisiana’s diverse agricultural landscape and abundance of water bodies can prove challenging when it comes to addressing water quality issues. The Louisiana Master Farmer Program is a multiagency effort that focuses on improving water quality through soil health projects and promoting conservation practices. The three major components of the program include education, demonstration and implementation of these conservation practices. Phase One includes six hours of classroom instruction where conservation planning, specific best management practices, watersheds, and management of nonpoint source pollution are discussed. Producers attending a conservation-based field day or workshop where best management practices are demonstrated will receive credit for Phase Two. To complete Phase Three, participants work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to develop and implement a comprehensive conservation plan to address any soil, water, plant, air and animal resource concerns on their entire farming operation. To be awarded the five-year certification by the Commissioner of Agriculture, a producer must complete all three phases.

The impact of this voluntary program can be seen in the statewide support from federal and state agencies, the agriculture industry and the over 4,000 participants that have completed at least one phase of the program. To date, approximately 365 producers have achieved certification or re-certification since 2006 and are in “presumed compliance” of Louisiana soil and water quality standards.Since its inception in 2001, almost 2 million agricultural acres have been enrolled in the program, with widespread adoption of conservation practices that are helping to mitigate water quality issues related to production agriculture.

Master Cattleman Program

For nearly 20 years the Master Cattleman Program has taught Louisiana’s producers best management practices in beef cattle, as well as soil and forage management. The overall goal is for cattle producers to possess a foundational knowledge of forage and beef production that allows them to effectively improve both production and profitability of their operations. To accomplish this, the curriculum-based program features 10 nights of education on pasture agronomy, weed management, animal health, nutrition, reproduction, breeding and selection, animal handling, Beef Quality Assurance certification, economics and marketing, and end products.

Successful cattle production begins with proper soil and forage management. For that reason, the first two classes of the Master Cattleman Program focus on fundamentals of soil health and forage production, followed by weed management. These lectures provide an understanding of soil pH and fertility, knowledge of forage species and discussions on how to design grazing plans that promote environmental sustainability. The remaining classes on cattle production then build upon these principles of environmental sustainability and stewardship.

Through the animal handling, health and Beef Quality Assurance courses, producers are taught that overall wellness and production efficiency are greatly impacted by management practices and livestock stewardship. The relationship between nutrition and reproduction becomes evident during both of those lectures, further emphasizing the importance of grazing strategies and environmental sustainability. Producers also learn to further optimize production efficiency with proper breeding and selection of replacement animals. All of this culminates in efficient production of beef as the final product that producers can confidently market to consumers.

Louisiana Master Gardener Program

For half a century, the extension Master Gardener Program has taught individuals how to sustainably grow their own food and improve their communities by conserving water, improving soil health, growing the food-supply chain, sharing knowledge and teaching the next generation the values of stewardship.

In 1973, Washington State University extension agents created a home horticulture training series to develop volunteers for the extension system. The agents developed a training curriculum focusing on horticulture-based subject matter, including culture of ornamental plants, lawns, vegetables and fruits; control of plant diseases, insects and weeds; and safe use of pesticides. Those who completed the Master Gardener training then committed to volunteering with the gardening public. The Master Gardener Program was so successful in Washington State that it spread to 50 states and several Canadian provinces.

In Louisiana, the first Master Gardener training series was implemented in Baton Rouge in 1994 to extend the educational outreach of the LSU AgCenter Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service. Master Gardener training programs expanded to the metropolitan areas of the state in 1998. Today there are 30 parish-level Master Gardener programs. Beginning in 2015, the Advanced Louisiana Master Gardener Program has further explored concepts covered in the basic Louisiana Master Gardener Program, but with an increased emphasis on environmental impact and sustainability.

Over the past 30 years, approximately 6,000 individuals have completed the Louisiana Master Gardener training program. Of those, there are approximately 1,600 active Master Gardener volunteers statewide. These Louisiana Master Gardener and Advanced Louisiana Master Gardener volunteers, under the direction of local Louisiana Master Gardener coordinators, complete tens of thousands of hours of volunteer service annually. Volunteer service hours for 2021 totaled more than 54,000 hours, for an economic value of more than $1.56 million.

Donna Gentry is the Louisiana Master Farmer Program coordinator based at the AgCenter Bob R. Jones-Idlewild Research Station in Clinton. Sara R. Shields is the Louisiana Master Gardener Program coordinator, and Ashley K. Edwards is the state livestock specialist and Master Cattleman Program coordinator, and both are based at the Dean Lee Research and Extension Center in Alexandria.

This article appears in the winter 2023 edition of Louisiana Agriculture.


Master Horseman Program

Like many of the "Master" extension programs across the nation, the Louisiana Master Horseman Program aims to educate horsemen and prepare them to serve as volunteer leaders within the 4-H horse program and throughout the Louisiana equine industry. Utilizing a hands-on approach to ensure mastery of horsemanship techniques, graduates have indicated that the program has instilled confidence and a willingness to teach technical and management skills to others. Educated, willing and confident volunteers are essential to accomplishing the many goals within the Louisiana 4-H Horse program. 

Former LSU AgCenter horse specialist Clint Depew developed the first ever Master Horseman Program in 2002. This program includes horsemanship instruction as well as research-based management skills. Upon graduation, participants are asked to volunteer a minimum of 20 hours in some kind of horse-related activity. Since its inception, over 1,000 men and women have graduated from the program and serve in leadership roles in horse organizations and youth programs throughout the state. 

Neely Heidorn, AgCenter equine specialist

A woman holds a flower and talks.

Advanced Louisiana Master Gardener, Eileen Hollander, filming a segment on native Louisiana irises for the LSU AgCenter. Photo by Sara R. Shields

People sit in folding chairs outside a farm workshop.

A Master Farmer class meets. AgCenter file photo

A man holds clippers and talks to people in front of a vine.

LSU AgCenter agent, Andre Brock (center), educating Louisiana Master Gardener volunteers on proper muscadine pruning techniques during a hands-on workshop in Ascension Parish. Photo by Sara R. Shields

Five men pose and hold signs.

Master Farmer graduates receive a sign signifying their completion of the program. AgCenter file photo

3/14/2023 9:02:36 PM
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