CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Eric Miller is a tinkerer, a thinker and an innovator, and he puts those skills into practice on his 400-acre farm in Piatt County and shares his discoveries with others. He was honored with an award named for someone who had the same qualities.
Miller was presented with the Brandt Prize for Ag Entrepreneurism in honor of the company’s founder Glen Brandt at the eighth annual Ag Tech Summit in Champaign March 7.
Miller focuses on improving yields in a way that is positive for the environment and the future of production. To tell those stories, he invites people to field days and research plots on his farm. He has also been an Illinois Farmer Today CropWatcher and creates informational videos for farm and research audiences.
The award comes with a $10,000 prize which Miller says he will likely invest in a new building on the farm. Miller said he has the land and equipment he needs but needs more buildings to be most effective.
In Springfield in 1953, Glen Brandt founded what has become a global agriculture chemical company. He died in 2020 at age 94.
Miller’s farm has become an outreach arm of University of Illinois research, with some of its top researchers carrying out projects there since 2014. It started with a simple project and just kept growing, he said.
Lowell Gentry, a Principal Research Specialist in Agriculture, now retired from the university, has gathered a research team invested in the ongoing projects. Miller jokes that he has been looking into squatters’ rights because researchers have spent so much time there over the last nine years.
Miller also works on Illinois Nutrient Research & Education Council-funded projects including on nitrogen rates. This is one of the reasons Dan Schaefer, director of nutrient stewardship with Illinois Fertilizer & Chemical Association, and University of Illinois professor emeritus Emerson Nafziger nominated Miller for the award.
Nafziger says, “It takes time and is a gradual process” of farmers moving to optimal nitrogen rates.
Miller is the third person to win the ag entrepreneurism award and the first who doesn’t produce alcohol. Will Glazik of Silver Tree Beer and Spirits, known for their vodka, and Matt Riggs of Riggs Beer Company in Urbana were the first two winners. Miller joked that he’d better start a still.
The conference also welcomed experts on sustainability, alternative proteins, carbon strategies and ag tech inventions, as well as growers and producers using the new products and research.