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NYS IPM 2004
Excellence-in-IPM Award Winners:
Jeff Miller

Jeff Miller, Agriculture Program Leader and field crops educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Oneida County, New York, has earned an "Excellence in IPM Award" from the New York State Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program at Cornell University for his dedication to developing practical new ways of teaching least-risk methods of dealing with pests.

Jeff Miller

Miller helped organize one of the first New York State IPM "Tactical Agriculture"—TAg—teams in eastern New York in 1991. TAg turns farm fields into classrooms and brings hands-on workshops and demonstrations to team members, who learn new, economically and environmentally sound pest management options. Since then, Miller's TAg teams have taught IPM techniques to 90 farmers who collectively farm 20,000 acres of land.

TAg teams have traditionally focused on promoting pest and crop management in alfalfa and field corn. Now Miller is helping create the TAg approach to soybeans, an emerging crop in New York.

"This past year I worked with five farmers who farm a total of 950 acres of soybeans," says Miller. "We scouted for pests, and only 150 acres needed treatment. But if the growers hadn't learned how to scout, they probably would have sprayed most of their fields."

Scouting is a classic IPM technique. Growers monitor their fields for pests using methods developed by Cornell University scientists. If they reach an "economic threshold"—meaning they find enough pests to cause a yield loss greater than the cost of treatment—they need to consider treatment options. If they stay below threshold, they're home free.

The main barrier to scouting, Miller finds, is time—it takes time to scout, and time is a commodity that growers are always short of. Yet pesticides aren't cheap.

"I tell growers that if it takes them three half-hour sessions to get a valid answer about whether to treat a 10-acre field for corn rootworm—and a soil insecticide costs $170 for that field—well, wouldn't you want to be paid $170 for an hour and a half of work?"

Miller participates in farmer-to-farmer discussion groups. "These are innovative people, and together we put out a lot of fires by helping solve each others' problems," says Miller. He also provides practical IPM information in workshops at farm field days and Cornell Cooperative Extension meetings.

No farmer has time for what Miller calls "hands-and-knees scouting." Miller spent a lot of time this past year crawling around Oneida County's soybean fields, looking for signs of soybean rust, a new and terrible threat to the United States' soybean crop.

"We haven't found it yet," Miller says. He notes that it could take 10 years to develop a high-producing variety of soybean that's resistant to the rust, a task that scientists have already begun. Soybeans are a $34 million crop in New York State.

"Jeff Miller has been a mentor to me," says Ken Wise, an IPM educator in livestock and field crops. "Trying positive and innovative educational methods is at the heart of his philosophy. Every time we talk, he has new ideas for me to think about."

Miller receives his award on March 22, 2006 in Canastota, New York.