For Kyle Miller, working in agriculture isn’t just his job. He feels it’s a gift that he has to share.
“I’ve always loved agriculture. I’ve always just wanted to farm my whole life,” Miller said. “When it’s in your blood, it’s more than just a job or profession. You feel like you’ve got a moral responsibility and you owe it to the rest of society.”
Miller has been able to live out his desire to farm at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville for several years, and that work recently advanced to another level. This summer, N.C. Department of Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler and Research Stations Division Director Teresa Lambert chose Miller to be the new superintendent of the station in Waynesville.
Miller grew up in Haywood County on a small farm with beef cattle, some burley tobacco and hay. In addition, he grew some pumpkins and a few other vegetables. He started working at the Mountain Research Station while in high school in 1999, as part of a job shadowing program. That transitioned into an internship at the station through the Department of Labor and later into part-time employment during his summers in high school and college.
When he graduated from N.C. State University in 2006 with a degree in Agricultural Extension and Education, there weren’t any full-time jobs available at the Mountain Research Station. It wasn’t until 2011 that he got a chance to return to the research station. He began working as a research specialist working with tobacco, organic vegetables and specialty crops. In 2017, he moved to the livestock and forage manager position, where he remained until the promotion to station superintendent.
Along the way, he married his wife Maria, and they had twin boys – Jack and Walker who are now nine years old. Working on the station gives Miller a chance to be involved in many different aspects of agriculture, including research that benefits farmers and consumers.
“The research projects that really stand out are the ones that help keep agriculture profitable,” Miller said. “As far as the consumer goes, the work that we do here ensures that they have the safest and most abundant food supply anywhere in the world.
“We are in the top five in the United States for loosing farmland. So as that dwindles and the population grows we’re charged with growing more food – becoming more efficient with less and less resources.”
In the effort to help farmers and consumers, the research ranges broadly. There’s work to develop new plant varieties such as new tomatoes that are resistant to ever-evolving diseases and pests or wheat with better yields that’s still cold-tolerant. Feed trials help with raising livestock, while breeding trials have improved the quality and value of North Carolina’s beef cattle. Some research even aims to figure out ways to upcycle products from other industries and convert the byproduct that would normally go into a landfill into food and fiber instead. For example, a recent trial explored the possible benefits of using the leftover plant material from cotton gins in feed for livestock.
“Again, when you’re involved in agriculture it sort of comes down to the moral responsibility of doing what we do here. As land declines and the population rises, the work that we do here on the research station becomes more and more important every day,” Miller said.