Professional News

UK alum, 4th-generation Black farmer stays connected through MANRRS

Sylvester Miller on farm
Sylvester Miller II and parents

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 9, 2024) — From the professional gridiron to the fields, Sylvester Miller II is making a difference in agriculture and for underrepresented minorities.

In 2008, Miller graduated with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics from the University of Kentucky Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. Miller was active in the UK Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) program, encouraging and empowering students form underrepresented groups to pursue degrees in agriculture and related fields.

With 16 years of work in corporate agriculture and valuable experiences gained in UK MANRRS under his belt, Miller feels well-prepared to be successful as the new U.S. crop technology market manager at FMC Corporation. The agricultural sciences company advances farming through innovative and sustainable crop protection technologies.

“Being a UK MANRRS member helped prepare me for the workforce and thinking outside the box,” Miller said. “Attending national conferences, competitions and more helped me be successful in the agriculture industry where the University of Kentucky name is well respected.”

In his role, Miller is helping lead the way for three innovative 3D fungicide and insecticide formulations at FMC — Ethos 3D insecticide/fungicide, Capture 3D insecticide and Xyway 3D fungicide.

All part of the 3RIVE 3D application system, the products are a revolutionary at-plant crop protection delivery platform allowing growers to farm faster and more efficiently.

Family influence

Representing four generations, Miller’s agricultural roots and heritage farming date back to slavery where his ancestors cultivated land in Helena, Arkansas. For Miller, his family’s legacy makes him proud, both professionally and personally.

“Due to my family’s history in agriculture during and post-slavery, it makes me prideful to work in an industry that was literally built on the blood, sweat and tears of my ancestors,” Miller said. “I’ve always carried a sense of pride in everything I do, including my career, academics and sports.”

Growing up and attending Mount Carmel High School in Chicago, Miller was originally recruited to play college football at UK as an offensive lineman.

Finding agriculture and MANRRS on campus

Upon arriving on campus in 1999, Miller, who was a first-generation student, didn’t know that agriculture was even a degree option. After speaking with Susan Skees, current undergraduate academic coordinator at Martin-Gatton CAFE, Miller fondly remembered landscaping as a kid, visiting the family farm and realizing that a career in agriculture is “more than just being a farmer.”

After changing his major to agricultural economics, Miller wanted to get more involved and discovered the UK MANRRS program — promoting the advancement of ethnic and cultural groups underrepresented in agricultural and related sciences.

“UK MANRRS allowed me to develop my network outside of just athletics,” Miller said. “I’m where I’m at in my career because of the opportunities and experiences offered in this program.”

While attending the inaugural Iowa Farmers of Color Conference and the recent National Black Growers Council annual meeting, Miller believes that agricultural diversity is important and needs representation.

“Diversity in agriculture is important because we are a diverse society,” Miller said. “Working in the public and private sector, making policies is important. We need to be at the table. We need to be more visible.”

Finishing the journey

Miller decided to leave college in 2003 and play professional football with stints playing for the Badalona Dracs, Lexington Horseman and Minneapolis Dragons. He later returned to finish his degree and graduated from UK in 2008.

“I enjoyed my journey in life before coming back, but there’s nothing better than walking across that stage and finishing something you started,” Miller said.

Presently, Miller continues to serve UK MANRRS as alumni affiliate network president and is on the board of directors. The program remains viable, winning multiple national MANRRS chapter of the year awards and “producing many successful, diverse alums” according to Miller.

Miller still farms, managing property in both Helena, Arkansas, and Buchanan, Michigan, continuing his ancestor’s rich and prideful tradition.

Learn more about the UK MANRRS program at:

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

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