From the top of the Miller family’s grain bins, it’s easy to see the family’s conservation efforts. Grass waterways wind through sloping fields, and the residue from cover crops forms a protective mat between the rows of young corn.
This spring’s heavy rains were hard on farm ground, but damage would have been much worse without no-till and cover crops, says Tim Miller, who farms with his wife, Lynn in Logan County, Ohio. “You can tell where the cover crops were,” he points out.
Water infiltration is better in fields with long-term no-till, Lynn adds. Those fields can also support traffic sooner after a rain — which was particularly important this year, considering the short planting windows.
Because of their ongoing dedication to conservation, the Millers are being recognized with a 2019 Ohio Conservation Farm Family Award. They farm 2,400 acres, raising corn and soybeans and planting about 1,000 of their acres to cover crops each fall. The couple is building on a conservation legacy started by Tim’s parents, Don and Virginia Miller, who remained involved with the farm until they both passed away in 2015.
Family legacy of conservation
Don and Virginia both worked as teachers and started farming on the side in 1961. Don was an early adopter of no-till, starting with no-till corn and then adding no-till soybeans.
Tim and Lynn were married in 1982, and they both graduated from Ohio State University a year later. Tim spent a year working as an ag teacher before he joined his parents on the farm in 1984. Lynn spent 10 years after college working for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, before she left her off-farm job to help farm as well.
Over the years, Tim and Lynn have expanded the farm’s acreage, and their three sons have joined them in farming. Their son Matt works with them and also farms 1,200 acres of his own. He typically takes care of all corn planting — which involved some short nights this past spring, Lynn explains. Their son Ben works with them full time and helps Lynn with soybean planting. Ben also has a talent for building and customizing equipment on the farm, Lynn adds. “We call it ‘Ben-gineering.’” Their son Steve works with them part time, focusing on trucking and machinery maintenance. Everyone helps out as needed with logistics.
Along with their family, the Millers rely on key employees Steve Coy and Sarah Kirkpatrick, who pitch in wherever needed during busy seasons. Coy also contributes his expertise in welding and machinery maintenance and Kirkpatrick has a knack for managing GPS equipment and maintaining harvest records. Kirkpatrick is also Lynn’s harvesting partner, running a grain cart while Lynn runs a combine.
The land the Millers farm varies from rolling hills to flat, bottom fields. As they’ve added rented ground, the Millers have worked to correct drainage problems and improve fertility. “A lot of times you see pH out of whack,” Tim notes. “That causes issues with about everything.”
Typically, the Millers use a corn-soybean rotation, with no-till soybeans followed by a cover crop. For their cover crops they’ve used aerial seeding and broadcast seeding with a fertilizer spreader, as well as drilling after harvest.
They’ve seen the most consistent results when they were able to harvest early and get the cover crop planted, but aerial seeding at a higher seeding rate also works well if there is a good rain following seeding, Tim says. “The challenge is to get them seeded and to get them terminated.”
In addition to their cropland, the Millers have about 150 acres of woods and some land devoted to wildlife habitat. They have worked to improve the woodlots by controlling grapevines and honeysuckle. They’ve created wildlife habitat with brush piles and bird boxes as well.
The Millers apply their own fertilizer, using variable rates based on field needs identified with grid soil sampling and yield monitoring. They also use autosteer and row shut-offs on their planters to avoid overlaps. This helps save on seed costs and eliminates yield reductions caused by crowded plant stands in overlap areas. Their sprayer is equipped with automatic boom section controls as well.
Because of the hilly terrain, many of their fields are irregular in shape and have grass waterways to work around, Tim points out. That makes automatic section controls particularly helpful. For instance, by the time he sprays around the edges and waterways in one 120-acre field, he already has 53 acres sprayed.
Besides doing their own fertilizer application and spraying, the Millers install their own subsurface drainage as needed. “We feel like that helps significantly with erosion, because it cuts down on water running off the top,” Tim says.
In some cases, subsurface drainage isn’t enough to keep runoff from cutting into fields, Lynn adds. “If that doesn’t hold it, we’ll put in a waterway.”
As they look toward the future for their farm, Tim and Lynn recognize the importance of conservation in passing on productive farm ground for future generations. “We have been blessed in many ways and desire to leave behind a legacy of caring for the land and for people,” Tim says.
The Miller family
The family. Tim and Lynn Miller farm with a team of family members and key employees. Their son Ben farms with them full time, son Matt also farms with them and farms additional acreage of his own, and son Stephen helps out part time as well. Ben and his wife, Holly, are the parents of Brianna, 6; and Josiah, 6 months. Matt and his wife, Abby, are the parents of 7-year-old Ryan, 6-year-old Ella and 3-year-old Luke. The family relies on key employees Steve Coy and Sarah Kirkpatrick.
The farm. The Millers farm 2,400 acres in Logan County, raising no-till corn and soybeans. They also plant about 1,000 acres to cover crops each fall.
Nominator. Jennifer Snipes, Logan Soil and Water Conservation District administrative assistant
Outreach and education. The Miller family has hosted the Top of Ohio Ag Tour to educate the non-ag community about agriculture. Family members have also worked with the Logan SWCD to host a cover crop workshop for farmers to promote the benefits of cover crops for improving soil health.
Community activities. The Millers are members of the Logan County Farm Bureau, and Tim is a past county board member. Matt is a member of the county Farm Bureau board. Matt’s wife, Abby, is the fiscal officer for their township.
Tim and Lynn are active members of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship Church, where Tim serves as an elder and leads a Bible study group and Lynn leads a women’s Bible study group. Tim also served for 10 years on the local Farm Service Agency county committee.
Keck writes from Raymond, Ohio.