April 2021
Potato researcher Jeff Miller keeps family business going strong

Before Jeff Miller returned to the family business — Miller Research, an independent contract firm — he had the opportunity to spend eight years as a pathologist in a university setting. Born and bred in southern Idaho, Jeff Miller made the tough choice in 2001 to leave the University of Idaho to take over Miller Research for his retiring father, Terry, who started the business in 1975. This year not only marks 20 years for that move, it also is slated to bring a new member to the Miller family: grandchild No. 1. 

1: What is your background?

I was raised on a family farm in southern Idaho. My father, Terry Miller, had a Ph.D. in plant pathology and also operated a private research and consulting business. I grew up on the “shovel” side of research and thought it would be better to be on the “clipboard” side. I earned my graduate degrees in plant pathology from Washington State University working with Dennis Johnson with the intent of returning immediately to the farm and research business. However, I had the opportunity to work as the potato pathologist at the University of Minnesota for two years and the University of Idaho at Aberdeen for six years.

2: What made you decide to go on your own?

My father decided to retire and asked if I wanted to take over the business. It was hard to leave the university because of the great people there. But my wife and I also considered it a great opportunity to raise a family on the farm. After a lot of prayer and thought, we decided to make the move. I really enjoy focusing on the field aspect of research and I have been able to maintain many of the connections I had when I was at the university.

3: What are your current projects?

We have been working on better methods for managing pink rot for many years. We are working on improving fungicide use and irrigation practices to improve disease control in the field. We are also working on finding more effective control practices for Fusarium dry rot, particularly on some of the newer russet cultivars. We are also doing collaborative work with Dr. Nora Olsen at the University of Idaho on postharvest disease management.

4: Are there any topics that are gaining a bigger spot on your radar?

Some growers are having more problems with powdery scab and potato mop-top virus. Control measures are very limited and many disease control recommendations are not solving the problems. I hope to work more on finding practical methods for reducing these problems in the future.

5: Is there a general common question you hear from growers? 

Growers have a lot of options when it comes to fertilizers, plant protection products, and other additives that are promoted to improve potato health and performance. With so many options available, growers most often ask if expenditures are worth the money. Impartial, real-world testing is needed to see how these products can help in potato production. 

6: What do you enjoy doing away from work?

I love to read and do just about anything I can do with my family. My wife and I are blessed to have four great sons and now one amazing daughter-in-law. We love to mountain bike, rock climb, play spikeball in the yard and just spend time together. I can’t wait to spoil my first grandchild coming this year!

7: Any favorite ways to eat potatoes? 

I love them all, but french fries are my favorite!

More from Spudman 7 and the people who make up the potato industry

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