Donna Morgan, Coreil, Paul D., Chaney, John A.
SIMMESPORT – Farmers, industry representatives and LSU AgCenter personnel recently attended a Louisiana Master Farmer Model Farm field day here.
The Sept. 16 activities at Robert Thevis’ farm in Simmesport provided an opportunity for the participants to observe conservation practices being followed by a leading producer, officials explained.
"Thevis farm was one of 12 model farms selected in the state to host a field day for the Master Farmer Program," said Donna Morgan with the LSU AgCenter’s Master Farmer Program. Thevis has implemented a conservation program on his farm, which is located in the northern Vermilion-Teche and Atchafalya watersheds – both of which are on the impaired list.
The Louisiana Master Farmer program was initiated by the LSU AgCenter and other partners to help agricultural producers voluntarily address environmental concerns related to production agriculture. As part of the requirements of the program, producers must attend a field day and tour at one of the model farms in their watersheds.
Thevis, a farmer with 600 acres of corn, soybean, rice and wheat, was selected to participate with one of the model farms to showcase how conservation practices affect water quality.
As part of the program, automatic water samplers were installed on Thevis’ farm to collect water as it drains from the field. The water samples are analyzed for nutrient runoff, soil sediment and biological oxygen demand. Plans are to collect this information for two years on each of the model farms – while also looking at the effects specific practices have on water quality.
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 because of too much sediment and other contaminants in runoff. The program is designed to help farmers learn to voluntarily comply with environmental standards and help clean up these water bodies.
"If farmers can do this on their own, they can prevent federal regulators from stepping in and forcing them to implement measures that may be inefficient and costly," said Dr. Paul Coreil, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor and chief architect of the program.
To become a Master Farmer, participants must successfully complete the program’s three phases. 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 in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and local soil and water conservation districts.
To increase profit and prevent soil loss, "I practice conservation tillage and crop rotation to grow three crops in two years on some of my land," said Thevis, adding, "I plant corn the first year followed by a wheat cover crop in the winter and soybeans the final spring."
Double-cropping works better on the well-drained soils on his farm, Thevis said, adding that with the help of the Master Farmer program and other conservation programs he hopes to keep his farming operation profitable and sustainable.
"Also, by practicing conservation tillage, I am able to produce additional crops in most years," Thevis said. "And by reducing the number of passes across the field, I am decreasing my fuel cost and helping my bottom line."
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. That law authorizes the state Department of Agriculture and Forestry to certify those who have completed the program and have implemented a conservation plan that meets standards set by the federal government. The legislation, authored by Rep. Francis Thompson of Delhi, also was recognized as model law by the Council of State Governments.
Since that time, three other states have hired Master Farmer coordinators, and Mississippi and Arkansas have signed an agreement with Louisiana to collaborate on the Master Farmer Program.
The Louisiana Master Farmer program is a partnership that includes the cooperation of the LSU AgCenter, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and many agricultural organizations in the state.
For more information on the Master Farmer Program or other topics on agriculture, contact Morgan at (318) 473-6521, a local LSU AgCenter office or visit www.lsuagcenter.com.