“Soil health can generally be explained by three main qualities: the ability for soil to hold on to water, the amount of organic material in the soil and the level of biological activity in the soil,” says Nick Guilette. These guiding principles inspire Guilette every day to work in agriculture with local farmers interested in making a conservation impact to benefit the natural resources everyone enjoys.
Guilette, of Casco, Wis., was recently awarded the Certified Crop Adviser Conservationist of the Year Award for his dedication to exceptional conservation delivery and customer service as a leader in the industry.
The 2019 award was presented Nov. 22 in Washington, D.C., by Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Matthew Lohr at the USDA. “Mr. Guilette has contributed substantially to the exchange of conservation ideas within the agriculture industry,” Lohr said. “He is truly a leader in conservation.”
Guilette added: “It is an honor to represent certified crop advisers, Wisconsin, and the conservation efforts occurring in our state at a national level. It’s exciting to see conservation getting talked about and becoming more of a decision-making process on a day-to-day basis for farmers to take action.”
Guilette has spent his life working in agriculture. He grew up farming 300 acres with his family, while also working in various conservation positions professionally. With a background in resource management and soils, he has worked as an advanced nutrient management and GPS technician, on local farms as a CCA and agronomist, and with NRCS as a demonstration farm project manager.
In his role as a demonstration farm project manager with NRCS, he uses his expertise to guide soil health efforts on the ground, working with producers through the Door-Kewaunee Watershed Demonstration Farm Network. The network, funded through the NRCS Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), features four farms that demonstrate the best conservation practices to protect the Great Lakes. Guilette works to showcase conservation systems that reduce erosion and sediment loss leading to nonpoint source pollution, and provides educational technology transfer to the public, farmers, universities, partners and agribusiness.
“NRCS is proud to partner with Nick through the NRCS demonstration farms,” says Angela Biggs, NRCS Wisconsin state conservationist. “He provides sound advice and resources as an educator to implement leading-edge conservation practices at the local level; he exemplifies excellence in his field, and we congratulate him as CCA Conservationist of the Year.”
“I enjoy working with the NRCS through the demonstration farms,” Guilette says. “This partnership fosters beneficial conservation management decisions on these farms, and subsequently, on many area farms, keeping our natural resources sustainable for future generations.”
Making a difference
As an educator, Guilette’s efforts have made a conservation impact.
“His soil health message — through outreach field days, farm tours and workshops — has spread from the demo farms to other farms across the Midwest and even further,” adds Barry Bubolz, NRCS area GLRI coordinator. “Nick has been advising the demo farms to try more sustainable conservation practices like no-till, low-disturbance manure applications and ‘planting green.’ For example, we’ve seen corn silage planted into growing rye, and it’s working.”
Guilette encourages soil health principles to area farmers, assisting them in building more resilient, economic and environmentally friendly cropping systems. “NRCS works with certified crop advisers at the local level, sharing science-based technologies that make a conservation impact on our natural resources to build productive lands and healthy ecosystems,” says Diane Gelburd, NRCS deputy chief for science and technology. “It is great to see Nick getting positive results from planting green, which is no-till planting primary crops into actively growing cover crops. This is one of many soil health practices that farmers are using.”
Guilette and Barry recently witnessed a 20-minute, half-inch rainfall on one of the demo farms. They saw zero runoff on the fields planted green and were able to drive on those field less than 24 hours later due to the farm’s use of soil health practices. These positive results and others are being shared farmer to farmer throughout the network.
“Certified crop advisers like Nick play an important role in partnering with NRCS to further locally led conservation and soil health efforts,” says Bianca Moebius-Clune, NRCS soil health division director. “Working together with farmers, they can help innovate and safely push the boundaries of what is thought possible in soil health management today. They help producers make regenerative land management decisions that work for their unique operation, natural resources, that year’s weather and their bottom line.”
Guilette has also worked with the NRCS as a technical service provider, writing comprehensive nutrient management plans, a conservation plan unique to animal feeding operations. He’s written conservation plans for growers on more than 25,000 acres. His focus on peer-to-peer mentoring and information sharing at demonstration farm events offers a unique challenge for farmers to be models of sustainability through soil health. He advocates for farmers to be a part of the conservation solution, and he will continue to use his passion for environmental stewardship as 2019’s CCA Conservationist of the Year.