Tobie Blanchard | 4/22/2005 12:28:32 AM
David Watson manages about 38 cows in the rolling hills of St. Helena Parish.
As a participant in the LSU AgCenter’s Master Cattle Producer program, he became aware of how his farm could be a potential source of water pollution – and developed a dedication to do something about that.
Part of the educational sessions provided through the Master Cattle Producer program involve learning about impaired waterways in Louisiana and how the source of the problem could be hundreds of miles away.
"We’ve all seen news clips about dead zones," Watson said. "But I don’t think most of us look at us as being the problem when we got a few cows here on the place."
After completing the program, Watson looked at his farm and did an assessment of potential erosion and water quality problems.
"I kept coming back to the house and looking at areas they identified in the program as sources of problems and different types of runoff."
He also enlisted the help of specialists with the LSU AgCenter and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to help identify and correct these problems.
"I think most of the resource problems that are most apparent out here are caused by the trafficking of the animals," said Stuart Gardener, a range conservationist with the NRCS, while evaluating Watson’s operation.
The cows frequently cross through gates and over creeks. That has eroded certain areas on Watson’s farm.
Other problem spots included the watering trough and a hay feeding area.
The solutions proposed by experts include putting down limestone in high traffic areas around gates and concrete slabs at hay stations.
Watson said he also plans to move water troughs for easier access and to divide his pasture into four zones to rotate the grazing cattle.
"They would spend a limited amount of time in a pasture until they have that forage grazed down to 2 or 3 inches," Gardner said. "Then they move on to the next pasture and allow the other pasture to rest."
This will help improve the quality of the plants in the pasture as well as help use the nutrients in the manure provided by the animals.
Most of these problems are manmade, but there are some naturally occurring problems that could be addressed, the experts said.
"Down the line we can really get into some fine tuning – like areas where erosion is happening because of natural drainage problems of the land," said Gardener. "We can put in some diversions and pipe structures to slow the water down as it moves off the property."
To make these improvements, Watson is relying partially on funds available from the federal Farm Bill’s Environmental Quality Incentive Program.
"When I realized the amount of money involved, if it hadn’t been for some cost-share programs, I don’t think I could have implemented them," Watson stressed.
But now he’s not wasting time implementing these changes.
"I look, in a year from now, to have fixed the majority of problems on this farm," Watson said.
The Master Cattle Producer program provides participants with a working knowledge of environmental stewardship, sustainable livestock production and farm management and marketing. So far, 113 producers have been certified as Master Cattle producers in Louisiana.
Writer: Tobie Blanchard at (225) 578-5649 or firstname.lastname@example.org