Carl Motsenbocker, Melhado, Sydney
Carl Motsenbocker, Milagro Berhane and Sydney Melhado
Farmers, ranchers, educators and researchers worldwide are implementing a variety of sustainable agriculture practices to maintain resources for the future. These agriculture professionals are making a profit, protecting the land, water and air, while also caring for farmers, ranchers, their communities and their quality of life.
For some producers, sustainable practices include using cover crops to suppress weeds and benefit the soil. For others, it may include limiting water or using buffers of grass or other noncrops along streams to protect aquifers. In the U.S., the federally funded Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program works to advance sustainable agriculture through research and educational outreach and by funding grants for farmers, researchers, students and communities.
Across the state, the Louisiana SARE Professional Development Program works to support farmers, researchers and educators as they explore practices that improve stewardship, profitability, and the social and economic health of farm communities. Louisiana SARE provides sustainable agriculture training for extension agents, Louisiana Natural Resources Conservation Service agents and other agricultural professionals. Mentor farmers are also a target audience. They help fellow producers transition to a more sustainable form of agriculture. Farmers are not necessarily the direct focus of the training, but they are the ultimate beneficiaries. For most of these trainings, however, experienced, beginning and aspiring farmers are also encouraged to attend along with their extension agents.
Louisiana SARE is administered jointly by the two land-grant universities in Louisiana, the LSU AgCenter and the Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center. The program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through Southern SARE. SARE supports at least two coordinators in every southern state, or one for each land-grant university, as well as a part-time program assistant.
The sustainable agriculture movement became focused in the 1980s in reaction to a series of developments, including the publication of “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson in 1962, a book that documented the effects of pesticide use, and the farm crisis of the 1980s — a critical economic situation. Other circumstances included the negative aspects of the Green Revolution, which was a focus on research and technology that brought about a large increase in agricultural production in the mid-20th century but also contributed to water and soil pollution, human and animal health concerns, and increased farm debt. National funding for sustainable agriculture began in 1988 with an act of the U.S. Congress and ultimately led to the current SARE program.
The goal of SARE is that farmers and ranchers develop new, innovative strategies to produce and distribute food, fuel and fiber sustainably. While these strategies may vary greatly, they need to fall under three broad goals, known as the Pillars of Sustainability:
• Profit over the long term.
• Stewardship of our nation's land, air and water.
• Quality of life for farmers, ranchers and their communities.
These pillars are often referred to as the three-legged stool of sustainable agriculture. There is not a set prescription of practices, but farmers and ranchers can be considered sustainable when following these three tenets.
The national, regional and state SARE programs provide access to sustainable agriculture extension and research educational materials, grant opportunities, workshops and trainings, and networking. The Louisiana SARE program is the main contact for sustainable activities and programming in the state. The Louisiana SARE coordinators, the program assistant and an advisory board are the core team working with collaborators around the state to meet specific challenges and provide educational programs and resources that are designed to meet local needs of agricultural educators, farmers, agency personnel and others. The overall goal of the Louisiana SARE program is to increase education, funding, networking, communication and resources toward sustainable agriculture in Louisiana.
Louisiana SARE provides training sessions each year in-state as well as travel grants for extension agents, other agriculture professionals and mentor farmers to attend sustainable agriculture conferences and workshops in other states. A major effort is to support attendance at the annual meeting of the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG), which is considered the premier sustainable agriculture conference in the South. The first SSAWG was held in southwest Louisiana in 1991, and there are now more than 1,200 enthusiasts attending the two-day annual meeting. The Louisiana SARE program also hosts technical trainings, such as the annual Southern University Fall Garden Workshop, the Cut Flowers Hands-on Workshop, the Beginning and Advanced Organic Farmer Training, and the Farm Profitability Workshop in 2018. In recent years, trainings around the state included the following: high tunnels workshops in various locations, the New Orleans Urban Farm Tour, and high tunnel pest exclusion and alternative insecticides workshops.
A key component for SARE is also grants. Southern SARE provides competitive grants annually for research and education, graduate students, professional development programs, producers and on-farm research. Since 1988, SARE has funded 34 grant projects totaling $1 million to support sustainable agriculture practices and educational materials across Louisiana.
Carl Motsenbocker is a professor in the School of Plant, Environmental and Soil Sciences; Milagro Berhane is a research associate at the Southern University Agricultural Center; and Sydney Melhado is an extension associate at the LSU AgCenter.
(This article appears in the winter 2019 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)
Ellen Polishiuk (center), farmer and business consultant, led the Louisiana SARE Farm Profitability Workshop on December 10, 2018, at the ULL Cade Farm in St. Martinville.
Karen "Mimo" Davis, nationally recognized flower grower and expert, demonstrates how to arrange fresh cut flowers during the Southern University Land-Grant Campus 2nd Annual Spring Flower and Garden workshop on April 25, 2018.
Alex Hitt, farmer, teacher, and mentor to many sustainable farmers, led the Beginner Organic Farming and Advanced Organic Farming workshops held at the ULL Cade Farm in St. Martinville, Louisiana, on July 24-25, 2018.