When asked, Cecil H. Miller Jr. will tell you his first agricultural service began as Chapter President for the Phoenix Union High School Future Farmers of America. His extensive service to agriculture is being recognized this week at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) 88th annual convention in Salt Lake City, Utah. Miller was named the 2007 recipient of the Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award Sunday night, a national recognition considered the top honor given by the AFBF.
Miller served as Arizona Farm Bureau President from 1971 to 1992.
Looking back to the very beginning of his service, in 1962, Miller was elected president of his Tolleson Community Farm Bureau in addition to his local irrigation district board of directors (Salt River Project). Since that year, he’s never looked back but only forward in his quest to advance the cause of agriculture in Arizona and the nation.
Today, Miller represents agriculture on Arizona’s Navigable Streams Adjudication Commission and serves in an advisory capacity to the Dean of the College of Agriculture at the University of Arizona. Just this past year, Miller’s family funded the Dean’s Chair for Excellence in Agriculture and Life Science for the University of Arizona. He is involved in a California farming operation with his daughter and son-in-law, Ted and Debbie Sheely where they did research work with the National Aeronautic Space Administration (NASA) to monitor pesticide, herbicide and water needs of the 4000-acre operation using satellite imaging.
Said Miller, “When you’ve been around as long as I have been, you’ve got to learn something along the way.”
When you ask him what fields of agriculture he’s been most active in, Miller’s list takes a while to explain. In addition to the activities in his cotton, grain and alfalfa operations, Miller provided leadership in the fields of agricultural labor, rural leadership development, water and property rights, rural economic development, international trade, applied technology, local and state land use, agricultural property taxation, worker’s compensation insurance, and public and state trust lands.
In the 1970s, Miller led an agricultural coalition to craft Arizona’s Agricultural Labor Relations Act and defeated the United Farm Workers (Caesar Chavez) attempt to unionize Arizona farms, continuing to hold the coalition together until the U.S. Supreme Court declared the law constitutional in 1979. Sen. Jon Kyl was the coalition’s attorney. Other states have used the Arizona law to pattern agricultural labor law because the structure of the law was fair to both workers and employers.
Reflecting on past achievements, Miller said he’s most proud of his work helping craft the Agricultural Labor Relations Act in addition to international trade dealings. “Though the work was challenging, the ongoing benefits to our efforts continue.”
Miller’s activities at the national level involved speaking and testifying on behalf of the American Farm Bureau on national issues and governance of American Farm Bureau and its affiliates, expanding agricultural trade opportunities, fund raising and advising on legal advocacy and impacting policy on federal lands. Cecil served on the AFBF board from 1975 to 1992, serving four AFBF presidents as an executive committee member. He also served as AFBF vice president from 1980 to 1981.