July 15, 2024

Miller grows crops, knowledge on central Illinois fields

Eric Miller

MONTICELLO, Ill. — Eric Miller grows more than corn, full-season and double-crop soybeans and wheat on his Piatt County farm.

The Minnesota native grows knowledge, by way of being involved with using his farm for a variety of on-farm research, from university-level projects to commodity association research and research for private companies.

Miller’s farm has become well known for the research he conducts on his 400 acres, so much so that the farm is often referred to as “a giant test plot.”

The motivation to use his farm for those projects started early in Miller’s Illinois farming career.

“Being a transplant from Minnesota, I didn’t know anybody when I moved down here and I didn’t have contacts,” he said.

The first contact came about through installing tile drainage on one particularly wet field.

“The first field we did in 2013, was just over 200 acres, a pattern tile system. Our drainage contractor was at a meeting and ran into a researcher who wanted to do a study of drain tile. So, I met Lowell Gentry, at the University of Illinois, and Dan Schaefer, with the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association,” said Miller, noting that led to a research study that continues to this day.

The other reason was the return on investment that every farmer seeks to have.

“Part of it was coming from a poor farming area, moving to Illinois and thinking that everything was perfect in central Illinois and then you realize that there are challenges everywhere,” Miller said.

“The farm was wet, so we had to work on that problem. We continued to have soil erosion and degradation. I thought, gosh, we spent all this money on this farm, what are ways we can stabilize it, sustain it, improve it?

“I wanted to get involved in the research because, generally, research tries to improve on things, tries to identify problems and improve on things. Having put all that tile in, I thought, I don’t want to just be exporting nitrates or wasting water, so that was why I was willing to talk to Lowell and Dan, because they were looking to monitor drainage water.”

Another part of that ROI was to make his acres pay in multiple ways.

“One way for me to produce income was to be more intensive on the acres that we do own, as opposed to trying to rent land. I was trying to maximize our return on what we had and you get paid to do on-farm research,” he said.

The final motivation was Miller’s own curiosity and desire to learn.

“I do it because it is satisfying, stimulating. You have to put thought into what you are doing. I like the stimulation and the process of planning out the trials and seeing them through to harvest,” he said.

Miller moved to Illinois from St. Cloud, Minnesota, in 2004 and purchased his farm.

“2005 was our first crop year, so this is crop 20 for us,” he said.

While the scenery in the St. Cloud area is stunning, the ground is less suited to farming.

“It is beautiful for many things, but where we were at, farming was not one of them. We didn’t have a whole lot of good soils, so that was why we relocated,” Miller said.

Bio

Eric Miller is relatively new to farming in Illinois. The Minnesota native moved to central Illinois from St. Cloud, Minnesota, in 2004 and purchased his farm in southern Piatt County. Going into his 20th crop on his Illinois farm, Miller raises corn, wheat, full-season soybeans and double-crop soybeans.

Miller also produces research on his farm. He became interested in doing research after his drainage contractor introduced him to Lowell Gentry, now-retired researcher at the University of Illinois, and Dan Schaefer, director of nutrient stewardship at the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association.

That introduction led to a research project, now in its 10th year, into tile drainage and nutrient distribution. Miller also has participated in research with the Illinois Soybean Association and with private companies.

Jeannine Otto

Jeannine Otto

Field Editor