A group of 23 Louisiana farmers, including one married couple and a father and son, recently attained the status of master farmer — a title that means they have not only learned the latest in conservation practices, but they are implementing them on their farms.

They received their certificates, along with a sign for their property that says “Certified Master Farmer” at the 64th annual meeting of the Louisiana Association of Conservation Districts in Baton Rouge.

“This group joins 92 others who’ve been certified for a total of 115,” said Ernest Girouard, coordinator of the Master Farmer Program for the LSU AgCenter. “This is an elite group.”

The Master Farmer Program, which began in 2001 as a way for farmers to learn up-to-date, research-based conservation practices in a comprehensive manner, is a partnership of five agricultural entities — the LSU AgCenter, Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation, Louisiana Cattleman’s Association, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF), which has the authority by law through the Commissioner of Agriculture to approve the certification.

“Numerous agricultural commodity groups and state natural resource agencies also endorse the program,” said Paul Coreil, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor and director of the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service.

In addition to the 23 farmers, Durand Farms — operated by brothers Jeff, Gregory and C.J., who raise rice, crawfish and soybeans in St. Martin Parish — was presented the 2009 Outstanding Master Farmer Award.

The Durand brothers’ farming operation also has been designated as a Model Farm by the LSU AgCenter. It hosted three rice/crawfish model farm field days in the past four years.

“We’re always open to change,” said Jeff Durand. “We try to be conscientious and put back and try to improve. When the Master Farmer program started, we realized we were already doing much of what they recommended. It reaffirmed what we had already been doing.”

The Durands’ conservation practices include laser-leveling their rice fields and practicing no-till planting, which results in three to four years of tillage savings and allows topsoil, organic matter, nutrients and any residual pesticides to stay with the crop and not move into drainage canals.

The brothers also are converting from diesel engines to electric pumps that can realize savings of nearly 60 percent.

Their best management practices include underground irrigation pipelines, grade-stabilization structures, pest management, nutrient management, irrigation-water management, crop residue control and conservation crop rotation.

“It took a lot of people working together to make this program happen,” said Bill Richardson, LSU AgCenter chancellor. He emphasized voluntary practices to alleviate government intervention.

“It’s critical that through conservation practices we do the very best we can,” said Mike Strain, Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner. “We have to get better and better at what we do.”

The Louisiana Master Farmer program crossed a milestone in 2009 when the roster topped 100, said Kevin Norton, state conservationist with NRCS.

“Society should give you a thank you for doing right to the land you have stewardship over,” Norton said to the master farmers.

Girouard said it can take several years to get through the program because it includes three phases. In Phase 1, the participants go through classroom instruction. Phase 2 involves visiting model farms to witness first-hand conservation practices in action.

“The last phase takes the longest because the producer has to work closely with NRCS to develop and implement a plan unique to his operation,” Girouard said. “Proof of implementation of the plan is what is presented to LDAF for final certification.”

Coreil said the premise of the Master Farmer program is to reward farmers for voluntarily adopting conservation practices.

“The practices they adopt usually cost them money,” Coreil said. “But the long-term effect is a more efficient operation that will be more profitable. The public benefits because the ultimate result is clean air and water for everybody.”

Coreil cited Kimberly Chapin, of Winnsboro, as the 100th individual to earn the designation Master Farmer in Louisiana.

The Master Farmer program is “a partnership that is very effective,” said Girouard.

Referring to the implementation of a certified conservation plan, Girouard said,” That commitment is what’s needed to protect our natural resources. Voluntary conservation is more effective than regulation.”

For more information about the program, people may contact their local LSU AgCenter parish Extension office or Girouard at (337)788-7570 or e-mail egirouard@agcenter.lsu.edu.

The new master farmers, including their home town and parish where they farm, are:

• Walter Davis, Natchez, Miss., Concordia Parish

• Scott and Angie Tyler, Dubach, Lincoln Parish

• Ed Crawford, Winnfield, Winn Parish

• Donavon Taves, Lake Providence, East Carroll Parish

• Ronald Hebert, Jeanerette, Iberia Parish

• Kimberly Chapin, Winnsboro, Franklin Parish

• Cullen Kovac, Oak Grove, West Carroll Parish

• Sam Hill, Tallulah, Madison Parish

• Damian Bollich, Jones, Morehouse Parish

• Vendal Fairchild, Oak Grove, West Carroll Parish

• Jens Rummler, J.A. Rummler and Wesley Jones, Oscar, Pointe Coupee Parish

• Jon Hardwick, Newellton, Tensas Parish

• Russell Barfield, Dubach, Union Parish

• Marty Frey, Morganza, Pointe Coupee Parish

• James E. Moreland Jr., Homer, Claiborne Parish

• Rubin Dauzat, Marksville, Avoyelles Parish

• Charles Fontenot, Lake Charles, Calcasieu Parish

• W. Frank Chapman, DeRidder, Beauregard Parish

• Conery Durand, St Martinville. St Martin Parish

• Randy Gregory, Oak Grove, West Carroll Parish