Linda F. Benedict, Schultz, Bruce
Louisiana has stepped out ahead of other states in helping farmers and ranchers learn to voluntarily comply with stricter environmental standards to protect soil, water and air quality.
The Master Farmer program got its start here in 2001. Since then, 168 farmers have been certified as Master Farmers. That means they have successfully completed the program’s three phases – classroom instruction, visits to demonstration farms and the development of an individualized conservation plan for each farm. Several spin-off “master” programs have been established as well.
This fall, the LSU AgCenter will offer a two-day, fast-track option in the Master Farmer program called Master Farmer University. Partner organizations include the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry and the Natural Resource Conservation Service in Louisiana. The training will consist of the same three phases, only condensed.
“Nutrient management and environmental sustainability are concepts that continue to become more important to Louisiana’s agricultural industries,” said Rogers Leonard, LSU AgCenter associate vice chancellor. “We recognize the need to provide this training and hope to offer it a couple of times every year in different parts of the state.”
Several other AgCenter “master” programs indicate an individual has gained a high level of proficiency while being mindful of environmental stewardship. These include Master Gardener and Master Cattle Producer. The Master Farmer program is the only one that involves a partnership with other state and federal agencies for the purpose of certification, Leonard said.
The Master Gardener program in Louisiana predates Master Farmer by about seven years. It is a national program first established in 1972 in the state of Washington. In 1994, Louisiana began the program.
In 2012, Louisiana had 2,150 Master Gardeners, with an average increase of 250 graduates per year. René Schmit, extension agent who coordinates the program, said he hopes to have close to 2,500 members when the 20th anniversary is celebrated in 2014.
The Master Cattle Producer program is undergoing a revival with Karl Harborth, extension beef specialist, as the program’s new coordinator. Classes in Cameron, Catahoula and Lafourche parishes are underway, he said, and classes will start later this year in the Acadiana area and in Washington Parish.
“We’re making some adjustments and updates to the curriculum,” he said, adding there will be online instruction available.
Another “master” program was developed with an economic incentive for the rice industry. This program, an initiative begun by the Kellogg Co., aims to promote the sustainability of rice production. All graduates of this program will be known as Kellogg’s Certified Rice Producers. The four levels – Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum – are attained by farmers who complete different stages of the program, including classroom sessions, farm practice documentation, attending field days and enacting conservation plans.
Other programs include Master Horseman and Master Logger. Please contact your local AgCenter office for more information about these programs.
(This article was published in the spring 2013 issue of Louisiana Agriculture magazine.)