THE LSU AgCenter has begun a program designed to help Louisiana farmers learn how to keep the state's waterways as clean as possible. Known as the Louisiana Master Farmer Program, the effort is designed to help farmers to be proactive in their efforts to keep Louisiana waters clean.

“We are going to implement the Master Farmer Program in all the watersheds in Louisiana,” said LSU AgCenter specialist Fred Sanders, chairman of the program for the AgCenter.

The initial meeting Nov. 1 in Crowley, La. — aimed at agricultural producers in the Mermentau Basin — drew farmers, agricultural leaders and other government agency representatives who will cooperate in the program.

This year's efforts also include another meeting in Opelousas, La., and the subsequent ongoing educational program for farmers in the Vermilion-Teche Basin.

Sanders said once the Environmental Protection Agency and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality develop the standards for the watersheds, which are called total maximum daily loads (TMDLs), the Master Farmer Program will be implemented first in the Mermentau and Vermilion-Teche watersheds. Then it will spread to other areas of the state.

Under the new rules being developed, TMDLs are the total amount of pollutants that a water body can take in a day's time and still meet water quality standards.

The Clean Water Act of 1972 required states to set water quality standards to protect and improve the condition of the nation's water bodies.

The master farmer effort will focus on implementing best management practices (BMPs) to help farmers and others in the state reduce pollution on a voluntary basis rather than through government regulation.

BMPs are the result of years of research and demonstrations by agricultural researchers and cover five main areas — nutrient management, pesticide management, soil and water management, pasture management and general farm BMPs.

A Master Farmer Program Website (www.agctr.lsu.edu/masterfarmer) has been developed to provide information about the program, its curriculum, meetings that are scheduled and other related topics.

Applications to participate in the educational program will be available online or at Natural Resource Conservation Service offices and parish LSU AgCenter Extension offices across Louisiana.