Dr. Murray Miller – a Pillar in the world of ag-Soils Research and Teaching at the University of Guelph

Soils At Guelph commemorates the work of Dr. Murray Miller

June 7, 2022Guelph, Ontario.  Since 1957, the research work of Dr. Murray Miller was a fixture in agricultural soils research and extension at the University of Guelph. Dr. Miller died on May 29, 2022 in his ninety-first year, but his impact on soil and environmental conservation will continue in the on-going research and extension at the University and beyond.

Dr. Miller’s major area of research was on the influence of soil factors on root growth and nutrient absorption.  He became a strong advocate for soil and water conservation, particularly in how to manage farmland to reduce overland runoff and corresponding phosphorus losses, reduce nitrate leaching into ground water, and reduce soil loss due to erosion. His research also helped to make the link between yield reduction and erosion losses.  

“An entire generation of soil scientists and agronomists, some from other countries, now practice their craft informed by Murray’s knowledge”, said Dr. Beverley Hale, Associate VP Research (Agri-Food Partnership). Dr. Miller supervised 37 graduate students in the areas of soil management, soil fertility, soil chemistry, plant nutrition, soil conservation, and soil biology, which showcases the breadth of his capacities across wide-ranging and related fields.

“He was the biggest driver that got me to where I am,” said Dr. John Lauzon, Associate Professor and Soil Researcher, when thinking about Miller. “He came to me in the lunchroom between 3rd and 4th year and offered me a summer job completely out of the blue”.  From there, Lauzon went on to complete his M.Sc. and PhD in Soil Science.  The link between Dr. Lauzon and Dr. Miller’s work is evident – Lauzon’s research focuses on nutrient cycling and management within the agroecosystem.

Lauzon also recalls with a smile Dr. Miller urging his students to remember that “plants can’t think” but rather they respond and grow to where the soil conditions allow.  This valuable approach to understanding plant-soil relations was also remembered by another of Miller’s students, Don King of the Guelph based consulting company, Soil Resource Group.

“He really made you think”, recalls Dr. Terry McGonigle, a post-doctoral fellow under the supervision of Miller from 1987-1997, remembering how students would often comment on how the courses they took with Miller would stand out among others.  McGonigle is now a professor who teaches, among other things, Soil and Plant Biology at Brandon University.  He says he owes much to Miller for the training he gave him on soils in agriculture. 

Dr. Ivan O’Halloran recalls Dr. Miller’s curiosity, “he wanted to know why I was in his Soil Plant Relationships course [in 1979/80].  That lead to us having several discussions about research questions and my future goals, ultimately resulting in my pursuing an M.Sc. under his supervision”. Later, O’Halloran obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Saskatchewan and taught at Ridgetown Campus, pursing a research program in soil fertility management and land stewardship. O’Halloran concludes that Miller “was without a doubt one of the most positive influences in my life and career”.

He is also remembered for his kindness and attention to the whole person.

“We will always have warm memories of him as he was very kind to us and always made us feel important”, said Joanne Scarrow, speaking from the perspective of a member of the staff. 

Dr. Peter Martini recalls, “Murray was the chairman of the Land Resource Science that welcomed me and helped me in my adjusting to the Geology at Guelph. And I miss him”.

Dr.Murray Miller smiling on a boat

“Murray Miller was responsible for creating many lasting friendships”, recalls Dr. Ken King, professor Emeritus, and friend of Miller.  “In March 1971, Murray invited a number of people and their families from the department of Land Resource Science for a ski weekend at Camp Hollyburn near Rosseau.  That was the start of 31 continuous years of an annual LRS ski weekend. The group changed over the years, but friendships were formed, and it was Murray who kept that ski-camp tradition alive.”

Cover of Sustaining Ontario's Land Resources, A History of The Department of Land Resource Science.

Finally, the excellence of Miller’s research work was recognized by his peers, just as Miller was aware of being part of a larger group of peers.  He was recognized as a Fellow of the Canadian Society of Soil Science 1982; a Fellow of the Agricultural Institute of Canada 1991; a Fellow of the Soil Science Society of America 1992; and University Professor Emeritus 1995.  To commemorate the work of his peers at the University of Guelph – both historical and concurrent, Miller undertook the task of documenting the history of Soil research at Guelph in the publication “Sustaining Ontario’s Land Resources, a History of Land Resource Science, University of Guelph, 1874-2004”, which was co-edited by Dr. Ken King, though King insists that it was Miller that did much more of the editing work.

Soils At Guelph was formed in 2018 to increase awareness of agricultural soil-related research initiatives, facilitate collaboration and knowledge exchange among stakeholders, and to educate on the importance of soil health.  But our work stands on the shoulders of the many who pre-date our inaugural years. Dr. Murray Miller was one of the shoulders upon which our soils research program stands and who represents a great role model as university professor, mentor, and colleague.

Thank you, Dr. Murray Miller.


For further information visit us at soilsatguelph.ca or email us at soils@uoguelph.ca 

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