The latest in a series of commodity-specific best management practices (BMPs) has been released for Louisiana aquaculture farmers by the LSU AgCenter.
Produced to help agricultural producers enhance environmental quality while continuing profitable farming practices, the BMPs were developed by the LSU AgCenter in partnership with other state and federal agencies, according to Dr. Paul Coreil, the AgCenter's vice chancellor for Extension.
Other agencies that contributed to the BMPs include the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.
“This is a continuation of education and outreach at the LSU AgCenter to bring best management practices to producers and encourage their adoption to improve water quality through improved farming practices,” Coreil said.
The LSU AgCenter developed and produced the BMPs to help Louisiana agricultural producers respond to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's move toward regulating water quality under provisions of the 1972 Clean Water Act.
The concept of best management practices for aquaculture evolved over time — beginning about six years ago, said Dr. Greg Lutz, an aquaculture specialist with the LSU AgCenter's Aquaculture Research Station in Baton Rouge.
Lutz said EPA has come up with regulations regarding three types of aquaculture, but he pointed out that those types of production aren't widely used in Louisiana. Most of the state's aquacultural production is in ponds, and Louisiana ponds have comparatively good water, Lutz said.
“The water sustains aquatic life,” he said, explaining, “Since the animals have to live in it, it stands to reason the quality already is pretty good.”
Dr. Robert Romaire, a researcher and resident director of the LSU AgCenter's Aquaculture Research Station, said the EPA's interest is in potential pollutants being released from specific sites.
“In many instances, water leaving an aquaculture impoundment in Louisiana is cleaner than it was in the ditch or canal from where it first came,” Romaire said. “Through economic necessity, producers have to maintain proper environments.”
Romaire said fish ponds naturally clean themselves, and farmers can't afford to replace water in their ponds. “The water is self-processed. Well over 90 percent of the nutrient inputs are converted into unimportant byproducts.”
Because aquaculture farmers can't afford to fill them constantly, Louisiana ponds generally are built in soils with clay content of 25 percent or more, Romaire said. This clay keeps the ponds from draining from the bottom.
“Farmers work with nature,” Lutz said. “They aren't in a position to manipulate it very much.”
The new aquaculture publication deals with practical management practices farmers can use, and researchers are continuing to examine and refine them.
Aquaculture is not a single commodity, Romaire said. It ranges from pond-raised catfish and crawfish to turtles, alligators and oysters. “It's diverse. It's really a series of aquaculture industries.”
Romaire said farmers need to monitor what they do to assure their economic well-being. The aquaculture BMPs help them do that.
Lutz said the BMPs are a tool for the industry to strengthen its position. “They are a valuable resource when policy issues come up,” he said.
Louisiana aquaculture contributed more than $204 million to the state's economy last year, according to the latest figures from the LSU AgCenter's 2002 Louisiana Summary of Agriculture and Natural Resources. For more details BMPs, the value of agricultural production or a variety of other topics, visit www.lsuagcenter.com.
Rick Bogren writes for the LSU AgCenter.