District conservationist eyes the future

Any farm or ranch can change and improve, says Jeffrey Miller of Cass County Soil Conservation District in North Dakota.

Jeffrey Miller is the Cass County Soil Conservation District director. Photo taken Feb. 25, 2019, in Fargo. (Mikkel Pates / Agweek)

WEST FARGO, N.D. — Jeffrey Miller, 37, is the director of the Cass County Soil Conservation District, based in West Fargo, N.D. About half of the district’s money comes from a mill levy, and much of the rest is charges for services.

“I help farmers and ranchers and landowners put conservation on the ground,” Miller says. “I really feel strongly about working with agriculture to not only be something for today, but something for our future.”

The district educates the public on conservation topics, making incremental changes over the years, often with the help of financial incentives through the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The district puts out about 65,000 trees in a year. They encourage small gardens of native plants, and help foster community gardens. He’s seen seen an uptick in 2- to 4-acre pockets of less productive land, planting to perennial grasses for pollinators or wildlife.

“We do everything from helping to plant trees and perennial grasses to helping change farming practices — more no-till, minimum-till, and grazing systems,” he says. “I believe any farmer or rancher can change. It doesn’t need to be a wholesale change in their methods. But every year that goes by, we’re realizing that the soil resource is diminishing. We’re losing soil to erosion.”


Miller grew up near Henderson, Minn., southwest of Minneapolis. His father was a carpenter and his mother worked in a grocery store, but they operated a hobby farm that grew corn, soybeans, hogs and sheep.

Miller was the oldest of two brothers. He graduated from high school in 2001 and went on to North Dakota State University, where he graduated in 2005, in natural resources management.

“I was interested in nature,” he says. “I wanted to have a career where I got to be involved with the outdoors, whether it be agriculture or the ecology-biology."

After college, he worked in the sand and gravel industry, first in drilling and exploration,traveling from Washington, D.C., to Denver, and then managing a mining facility at Hawley, Minn.

The bottom line for Miller is to “make sure we have a robust farm economy and environment for my kids, my grandkids, and my grandkids’ grandkids. I feel very strongly about conservation.”

Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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