[Image: ernest girouard at master farmer university]
News Release Distributed 01/17/14
WEST MONROE, La. – About 40 farmers went back to class on Jan. 16-17 as part of the Louisiana Master Farmer University.
The workshop comprised two of the three phases required for certification as a Louisiana Master Farmer, said Ernest Girouard, state coordinator of the Louisiana Master Farmer program.
“The first phase of the program begins with classroom training, where they hear presentations on spill prevention, commodity-specific best management practices, water quality issues and other environmental information,” Girouard said.
During day one of the workshop, the producers heard from the five Master Farmer Program partners, which include the LSU AgCenter, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, the Louisiana Farm Bureau and the Louisiana Cattlemen’s Association.
Girouard said the program was created in 2000 as a way for producers to address environmental concerns that involve production agriculture. Master Farmer University is a new way to bring the program to producers so larger groups can attend at one time.
“The idea for creating this type of workshop started from conversations with our commodity groups, who suggested that we try to bring phase I and II together at a single time so we could facilitate more activity with a larger group,” said Rogers Leonard, LSU AgCenter program leader for plants and soils.
With the new format, producers can come to a two-day meeting and cover the first two phases of the program. Then they are ready to begin phase three, which involves actually developing the plan to be implemented on their farm, Leonard said.
“Another benefit of the Master Farmer University is that we can cover the general environmental issues during the morning of day one, then that afternoon we can break the sessions out by commodity,” Leonard said.
On day two, the producers toured one of three locations that featured their specific commodities.
Producers interested in cotton, rice, feed grains and soybeans spent a half day at the LSU AgCenter Macon Ridge Research Station. Poultry producers went to the AgCenter Hill Farm Research Station. And those interested in livestock and other grazing animals toured Ricky Womack’s Farm in Baskin.
The LSU AgCenter coordinates the educational efforts of phases I and II, Leonard said. When those phases are complete, the producer is then ready to visit the local NRCS office to develop a resource management plan.
“This plan consists of a survey of what’s on their farm presently and the plan itself is the result of looking at conservation practices needed to improve the current conditions on their farm,” Leonard said.
Topics covered during the classroom session included coastal nonpoint source pollution and sewer system legal requirements.
AgCenter agent James Hendrix discussed why it’s important for producers to know which watershed they are in and the effect agriculture can have on scenic rivers.
Several states are developing programs like the Master Farmer Program, Hendrix said. He credited Louisiana’s success with the good working relationship among the partners.
Jay Hardwick, a graduate of the Master Farmer Program, said he attended the meeting as a way to help his son get started in the program.
“It’s a generational thing now,” Hardwick said. “It’s not just me; this is for the next generation.”
Hardwick said his 11,000-acre operation is diverse. “We grow quite a bit of cotton, corn, soybeans, wheat and grain sorghum.”
Girouard said the Master Farmer Program is open to all size farms, and all commodities are welcome in the program.