Private research benefits growers and
With the continuing trend of a reduction in government services, the reliance on non-biased private research companies has become even more important for both growers and the companies that supply many of the inputs necessary to produce healthy crops in large-scale production.
Miller Research in Rupert, Idaho has been conducting product field testing for the potato industry for more than 30 years. Funding for its work comes through grants, contracts with agro-chemical companies or through agencies such as the Idaho Potato Commission
"Much of what we do is similar to what goes on at a university," said Jeff Miller, president and CEO of Miller Research.
"Universities do what we do, but I would say we do more. I would say we do close to 50 or 60 trials in a year. They'll come to us and sometimes – we fill a different role than what the university does. We will do things that sometimes are in earlier stages of development," he said.
Started in 1977 by his father, Terry, Jeff returned to Rupert to work alongside his father after working as a research scientist at the University of Minnesota and the University of Idaho.
"A company will have a product and they don't know if it will work or not and Miller Research will test different rates or test it with different products to see if they're compatible," Miller said.
"I would use those trials as a way to know what's out in the industry. It's hard to talk about something and give recommendations on something if you don't know how it works," Miller said.
As the products move through the stages of development and refinement as they get closer to release, the companies will then move the testing to the university level for academic testing to gain publicity.
Miller said that he and his father approach their research with a similar unbiased and ethical approach to their field tests and recommendations.
"It does get us crossways with our clients. We'll call it the way we see it. The growers and consultants come to us because they have learned they can trust what we say," he said.
"We're not going to just give them the company line," Miller said, "but we're going to tell them what our honest opinion is. I like to use the 'Consumer Reports'" example. We're going to go out here and try it and give it one to five stars, if we think it's good or bad or somewhere in between."
Sometimes their opinion of a product will be met with a "we beg to differ" attitude from a company and at other times the disagreement with their assessment of a product has become more contentious said Miller.
"We feel the reason they keep coming back to us is growers have learned to use the information," Miller said.
Miller attributes the success of Miller Research to his father's efforts.
"Terry worked so hard to develop that reputation so that when I came back my hope is I don't want to drop the ball," he said.
Most researchers rarely have a problem with honest results from their testing of the products, Miller said.
"A lot of them want to know, 'tell me the strengths and weaknesses,'" Miller said. "Technical managers want to know."
Miller describes their effort as a balancing act between the demands of research departments and the desires of sales managers.
Most products have a good side said Miller but he has to give growers the pros and cons of a product from his testing.
One of the changes Miller has witnessed over the years is that many growers are not as involved in choosing their crop protection products they use. These days most growers have their farm managers making these decisions.
Miller said that even though Miller Research is not affiliated with a university he has tried to instill the extension mindset within the company by having field days or winter meetings.
"We want to educate," he said.