Linda Benedict, Girouard, Ernest
Animal waste management has always been a concern for agricultural producers. In Louisiana, a group of environmentally concerned farmers has taken waste management matters into their own hands. As certified Master Farmers, these farmers have worked with conservation professionals to develop whole- farm conservation plans to ensure what happens on the farm stays on the farm.
The Louisiana Master Farmer Program, which began in 2001, is targeted at helping farmers recognize and voluntarily address environmental concerns on their farms through classroom instruction, visits to environmentally successful farms and development of individual farm conservation plans.
Currently, 115 Louisiana farmers enjoy the distinction of being a certified Master Farmer. More than 2,600 additional farmers in Louisiana are enrolled in the Master Farmer Program and progressing toward certification.
Included in the cadre of certified Master Farmers is Larry Miller of Miller’s Dairy Farm near Kentwood, La. Farming since 1972, Miller milks 75 cows twice a day. The cows are fed grain and graze on high-quality ryegrass and arrowleaf clover.
Kentwood is in St. Helena Parish, which is one of Louisiana’s Florida parishes – so named because the southeastern area of Louisiana was part of western Florida in the early 19th century. The Florida parishes are home to the majority of the dairy farms in Louisiana.
Dairy farmers must address many environmental concerns to meet water quality standards, including water runoff from animal holding areas, where nutrients from manure wash into streams and rivers; nutrients from manure seeping into groundwater and compromising drinking water supplies; and surface water contamination by runoff from animal travel lanes.
The Master Farmer Program offered Miller an opportunity to examine his farm in a new light and develop a comprehensive conservation plan.
“My daddy taught me to always take care of the land,” Miller said. “I don’t see how anyone can get something like this done without help from someone providing the technical services. Without help, you don’t know what you might end up with.”
A comprehensive conservation plan includes addressing soil, water, air, plants and other natural resource issues. Miller’s plan included practices to prevent water runoff from animal holding areas and erosion from cattle travel lanes and nutrient management.
A zero-discharge wastewater lagoon was designed to receive the water runoff from Miller’s milking barn, and the water in the lagoon is routinely pumped out and sprayed on his pasture areas. In dry times, the water in the lagoon is also used for irrigation. Miller said the spray heads distribute suspended solids onto the fields as well.
The wastewater sprayed on Miller’s pastures results in a high-quality, abundant crop of hay, with little additional fertilizer. Miller regularly tests his soil to make sure he is not overloading with nutrients. When other farmers are looking for hay for their animals, Miller has produced an ample supply. Miller’s conservation investment pays off every time he feeds his animals.
As a Master Farmer, Miller addressed all environmental concerns on his farm in his conservation plan. As a result of his efforts and the conservation practices he installed, his farm is a closed system. There is no animal waste runoff from his farm, and his farm uses all the wastewater it produces.
“This system needs little maintenance,” said Miller. “I have to completely clean out the lagoon every three to four years. But other than that, the system takes care of itself.
“When I first started dairy farming, I saw manure in the creek. This made me think we were riding without a safety belt – taking our lives in our own hands. The other day, I saw a neighbor walking down by the creek, and she told me how pretty the creek was. It really did my heart good to hear this. We have come a long way.
“Conservation pays off in the long run; I would not go back to the old way.” Miller has additional plans to install a riparian area in the bottomland of his farm. As a certified Master Farmer working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), he is eligible to participate in a special EQIP program that provides for a higher financial assistance payment for implementing conservation practices.
The Louisiana Master Farmer Program is a partnership of five agricultural entities including NRCS. The others are the LSU AgCenter, Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation, Louisiana Cattlemen’s Association and theLouisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.
The Louisiana Master Farmer Program is shaping Louisiana’s environmental future one farm at a time.
Ernest Girouard, Coordinator, Louisiana Master Farmer Program, LSU AgCenter, Rayne, La.
(This articles was published in the spring 2010 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)