That step came when the Louisiana Senate passed HB 1827. The bill, which was approved unanimously by the house May 1, provides for official state certification of those who complete the LSU AgCenter's Master Farmer educational program.

Introduced by Rep. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, the bill provides that the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry certify those who have completed the Master Farmer program and have implemented a conservation plan that meets standards set by several federal agencies.

The bill is now awaiting the signature of Gov. Mike Foster before it becomes law.

The Louisiana Master Farmer program, developed by the LSU AgCenter and the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation, is an environmental education program designed to help farmers and ranchers identify and adopt best management practices to improve water quality in lakes, streams and bayous.

The bill passed this week provides that "any individual who has received Master Farmer certification shall be presumed to be in compliance with state soil and water quality requirements as long as certification is maintained." It also instructs the LSU AgCenter to establish and maintain a curriculum for the Master Farmer program – in consultation with other agencies and organizations – conducive to those ideals.

"We're pleased the state has acknowledged the LSU AgCenter's program, and we're dedicated to providing Louisiana farmers with the best research-based information available to develop best management practices for their farms," said Bill Richardson, chancellor of the LSU AgCenter.

"We at the Farm Bureau have always felt that furthering education and not governmental oversight would be key to farmers, ranchers and loggers becoming better stewards of their crops, land and water," said Ronnie Anderson, Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation president.

"We applaud all legislators who helped the Master Farmer program become recognized as an educational tool to further teach ag producers environmental stewardship," he said. "The Louisiana Farm Bureau has endorsed and promoted the Master Farmer Program since its inception."

Spearheaded by the LSU AgCenter, the Master Farmer program grew from the Louisiana agricultural community's desire to reduce runoff into the state's waterways and voluntarily improve water quality without additional governmental regulations, according to Paul Coreil, vice chancellor and director of extension in the LSU AgCenter.

"Farmers will do the right thing based on research," Coreil said. "The best management practices we teach in the Master Farmer program will result in effective conservation plans for individual farms."

Producers in the Master Farmer program attend eight hours of classroom work focused on environmental stewardship and then develop and implement approved conservation plans for each farm.

Once certified as a Master Farmer, each participant must earn continuing education credits by attending a variety of activities such as field days and grower meetings.

In addition to the LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Farm Bureau, other agencies involved with the Master Farmer program include the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Louisiana Association of Conservation Districts, the Louisiana Cattlemen's Association, and the state departments of Environmental Quality, Agriculture and Forestry, and Natural Resources.

Rick Bogren is a writer for the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service.

e-mail: rbogren@agcenter.lsu.edu