Carrie Mendoza, Coreil, Paul D., Benedict, Linda F.
The second phase of Louisiana’s Master Farmer Program will officially begin this month with the first "model farm" field day – where participants can witness the latest in conservation practices.
The April 19 field day at the Jim Dupont farm near Lake Charles will feature cattle grazing systems, Global Information System equipment demonstrations and conservation plan development, according to Carrie Mendoza, LSU AgCenter extension associate and Master Farmer program coordinator.
The farm is in the Calcasieu watershed, one of 12 drainage basins in Louisiana. The Master Farmer Program is organized by watersheds, Mendoza said, so farmers can learn the best practices for their geographical area and type of farming system.
Louisiana’s Master Farmer program, the first of its kind in the country, was established four years ago when new federal guidelines indicated that 70 percent of the state’s water bodies were impaired – too much runoff and sediment. The program is designed to help farmers learn to voluntarily comply with environmental standards with the goal of clearing up these water bodies.
"If farmers can do this on their own, they can prevent federal regulators stepping in and forcing them to implement measures that may be inefficient and costly," said Dr. Paul Coreil, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor and chief instigator of the program.
To become a Master Farmer, participants must successfully complete the program’s three phases. A goal of the program is to have as many of the 1,600 enrolled participants certified by year’s end, Mendoza said. When certified, they will be considered in compliance with state soil and water conservation standards.
The first phase of the program involves eight hours of classroom instruction on such topics as pesticides, nutrient management, hypoxia and nonpoint-source pollution. The second phase includes the model farm field days and tours. In the third phase, the producer must develop and implement a conservation plan with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and local soil and water conservation districts.
Don Gohmert, NRCS director in Louisiana, was among five officials from key agricultural organizations to sign a Memorandum of Understanding recently giving formal approval and pledging commitment to the state’s Master Farmer Program. In addition to Dr. Bill Richardson, LSU AgCenter chancellor, the others to sign were Ronnie Anderson, Louisiana Farm Bureau president; Bob Odom, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF) commissioner; and Clayton Brister, Louisiana Cattlemen’s Association president.
Brister signed representing the Master Cattle Producer Program, a spinoff effort that includes additional instruction specific to that commodity group.
"This is a separate program but takes advantage of the curriculum provided through the Master Farmer Program," Mendoza said.
More than 100 cattle producers already have achieved "master" status. But to also become Master Farmers, they must complete the second and third phases of the Master Farmer Program, Mendoza said.
"We’re receiving national recognition for our Master Farmer Program," said Richardson. "Louisiana was first, and other states are copying us."
Louisiana gained national attention with the Master Farmer Program when the Louisiana Legislature passed a law in 2004 that provided for official state certification for Master Farmers. Introduced by Rep. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, the bill authorizes the state Department of Agriculture and Forestry to certify those who have completed the program and have implemented a conservation plans that meet standards set by the federal government.
Thompson’s legislation received affirmation of its value when the Council of State Governments (CSG) endorsed it as a model law for other states to adopt. The legislation was chosen from more than 90 entries and is published in the CSG’s 2005 Suggested State Legislation book.
Mendoza said so far three other states have hired Master Farmer coordinators, and Mississippi and Arkansas have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Louisiana to collaborate on the Master Farmer Program.
Carrie Mendoza at (225) 578-2906 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul Coreil at (225) 578-6083 or email@example.com
Linda Foster Benedict at (225) 578-2937 or firstname.lastname@example.org