Future of Farming: The Next Generation
Miller Family Farms – Putting Their Best Foot Forward Through Sustainability
By: Julia Ruiz, Michigan Corn Intern
On Monday, May 24th, 2021 I had the pleasure of visiting Miller Family Farms and sitting down to speak with Damien Miller – the Next Generation of this 4-generation farm. Miller Family Farms is based out of Elsie, Michigan, and consists of about 2300 acres of corn, soybeans, and wheat. Over the years, they have seen many transitions in technology and labor and have focused on sustainability by becoming MAEAP verified. They put their best foot forward, which is best described through their mission statement:
“We strive to make efficient use of inputs, maintain excellent land stewardship practices, produce high quality commodities for the user and provide adequate income for our families. We value the land & environment and are committed to farm preservation. We take pride in our work and hold ourselves to a high standard.”
Leading towards the future of farming, I wanted to learn more about the next generation of farmers and Damien Miller welcomed me to speak about the challenges and opportunities he has encountered during his last 4 years being back at the farm full-time.
Damien spoke to me about the kind of initiatives Miller Family Farms is taking to be sustainable and ensure the quality of their land in Elsie. Along with being MAEAP verified, they have begun using practices such as intercropping soybeans and wheat, using cover crops in their fields (starting in 2019), using strip-till or no-till practices, and recently, utilizing the manure from Damien's hog farm to fertilize around 150 acres of corn. Including sustainable farming practices on their farm was a no-brainer for the Miller family since, as Damien puts it, "being sustainable is the only reason generational family farms exist." That said, the public eye can put pressure on farmers to do more and this is not without its troubles. Damien spoke on this and how the pressure for "sustainable agriculture" has impacted him; "farmers will never do anything intentionally to hurt their ground, that hurts our pocket, and our way of life. For people to go out and say that we are doing something to damage the Earth, is nowhere near the case."
Being the next generation of farmers is not without its challenges, but it also comes with profound satisfaction. Damien discussed that the most difficult aspect of being a young farmer comes from understanding the business side of things. This is challenging since there is a lot to learn surrounding tracking inputs, outputs, future labor, etc. Although he grew up farming, this was a side of things that was new to him after coming back to the farm full-time. Aside from this, there was much to be grateful for being back at the farm. One of the most satisfying parts comes from a memory from his first year back full-time; "Planting my first crop was probably one of the happiest days of my life, outside of my children being born, and (also) my first harvest…that first year of my farming was awesome."
It was a delight to be able to sit down with Damien and learn more insight into what it is like being a young farmer, as well as how he is taking on new challenges to one day run the farm himself. That said, Damien has learned much about agriculture in his 32 years and I wanted to hear his advice to future young farmers or those looking to find their start in farming. This is what he said: "If you didn't grow up on a farm and wanted to farm, I would find a local farmer and go to work…having a good mentor is priceless". He also had advice for the public looking to learn more from a farmer's point of view, "Go ride with your local farmer, have them explain what they do on their farm"; this is a simple, yet great way to become enlightened by what farmers do day in and day out.”
As we can see here, Miller Family Farms is doing its best to stay informed and put their best foot forward in both their community and in farming.