Certified Crop Adviser Nick Guilette views helping farmers adopt conservation practices to improve soil, water and air quality as a journey, with progress as the goal year-to-year.
The use of no-till and cover crops are two of his go-to practices when helping farmers—who he describes as the “ultimate problem solvers and solution finders”—take their initial steps.
The impact from weather extremes in Wisconsin during the 2019 production season are a case in point. Farmers there, like others across the U.S., had the wettest production season that many could remember. Those with corn planted to no-till found they could get into fields faster than those using conventional tillage.
“Corn silage needs to be harvested in a timely fashion, or the quality gets away from you. So it’s worth a lot to be able to get back into the field a few days sooner and not rut it up from one end to the other from traffic in the process,” says Guilette, a native of Casco, Wisc. “Think about how much additional money farmers spent in some of the conventional fields this past year in fuel alone,” he adds.
Granted, not every farmer is ready to adopt no-till, so Guilette looks for how he can help them take small steps forward. In some cases, it’s as simple as helping farmers understand how they can modify existing equipment.
“You don’t need to go out and buy a brand new, shiny planter necessarily. With a lot of corn planters we can make adjustments like increasing down pressure and changing disc openers and closing wheels—small modifications that can get us in many scenarios to a no-till system if that’s what we want. Or, maybe the farm would like to use one less tillage pass,” he explains.
Guilette also likes for farmers to consider how they can benefit from using cover crops. He routinely broaches the topic with farmers in the fall, asking “What are your plans for the field after harvest?”
Having goals in mind is important in the decision-making process. The farmer’s answer usually helps Guilette know how to guide the conversation, moving forward.
“Maybe the farmer wants to experiment a little bit with a cover crop; he wants it to winter kill so he doesn’t have to address termination and planting into high residue come spring. In that case, I keep it really simple and tell him to plant one species, maybe two,” Guilette notes. If the farmer is nervous about getting started, Guilette adds, “We can put it on a back field that no one’s going to see, so he doesn’t have to be concerned about what the neighbors think.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Guilette says dairy farmers often benefit from planting a variety of forage crops, post silage harvest. “Those are really nice to have because we never know how the alfalfa is going to be after a very wet fall and several freeze/thaw periods during winter. Having winter triticale or winter rye as an alternative forage the next spring is a nice option,” he notes.
For his dedication to conservation and farmer service, Guilette was honored with the 2019 Certified Crop Adviser Conservationist of the Year Award by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
“The organization 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,” said 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, one of many soil-health practices that farmers are using,”
Regardless of what conservation practices a farmer decides to try or adopt, Guilette says he believes one of his core responsibilities is to continually offer ideas and recommendations that can help them in practical ways.
“As CCAs, service providers and retailers we can help our customers find value in conservation,” he says. “Most of them don’t expect us to have all the answers. They want us to help them do a better job.”