With the Environmental Protection Agency looking to step up regulations on sediments and nutrients in waterways, there could be a new web of environmental regulations to potentially snare farmers. But there is a way for Louisiana producers have confidence in their environmental stewardship.

Started in 2001-02, the Louisiana Master Farmer Programhelps agricultural producers address environmental concerns through best management practices for sustainability of Louisiana agriculture.

Those who complete the program are presumed to be in compliance with all of the state soil and water regulations, as long as certification is maintained, according to Ernest Girouard, coordinator of the Louisiana Master Farmer Program.

“The certification is for five years provided the producer has six hours of continuing education every year. At the end of the five-year period, that farm has to be recertified.”

Program partners include LSU AgCenter, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, Louisiana Cattlemen’s Association, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation.

Major regulators in the state, such as the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Environmental Quality, Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the regulatory arm of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, play a big role in the program.

The Louisiana Master Farmer program uses a comprehensive approach that includes classroom instruction, utilization of research‐based best management practices and implementation of a comprehensive conservation plan. It also involves a voluntary producer certification process and is marked by continuing education requirements through the course of the program. Plan modifications can be made as production changes.

To become a certified Louisiana Master Farmer, a producer must complete three phases:

 

(1) Producers attend classroom instruction on a wide range of environmental stewardship issues, including, laws, environmental impacts, best management practices, conservation district roles in planning and implementation, and funding sources.

“Representatives from regulatory agencies make presentations on all of the regulations they oversee on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, point and nonpoint source pollution, for instance,” Girouard said. “We hear right from the regulators, what the regulations are and how to comply with them.”

 

(2) Producers attend a conservation‐based field day where specific best management practices (BMPs) are demonstrated and discussed.

“Participants have an opportunity to visit with farmers, and exchange ideas and knowledge of the cost of the practices, how they were implemented and how they’re working,” Girouard said.

 

(3) Producers voluntarily request a farm-specific resource conservation plan developed with the cooperation of the LSU AgCenter, NRCS and local soil and water conservation districts. All aspects of the farm-specific plans are confidential.

“Every acre is visited by a certified conservation planner, who is looking for ways to correct environmental issues with best management practices,” Girouard said. “Once an issue is identified, and a practice is recommended, the producer has an opportunity to recommend some practice he may have in mind.

“Everything is voluntary from day one. All throughout the program, the producer can start or stop at any time.”

Upon completion of all three phases, the LDAF commissioner (Mike Strain) issues the Master Farmer certification.

A program goal is to certify enough farms so that Louisiana farmers will protect all the natural resources, thereby reducing nutrient and sediment runoff from their farms so that future regulation may not be necessary.

Louisiana has 167 certified master farmers. For more on the Louisiana Master Farmer Program, visit Master Farmer.