Jeff Thomson’s great-grandfather, C.B. Crawford, began farming near his 160-acre homestead in 1888. After the farm’s water source ran dry, he became a market duck hunter on Jerry Slough, 40 miles west of Bakersfield. With money saved from duck sales, C.B. bought several farming parcels that are still farmed by the Thomson family today.
Thomson International, Inc. is a fifth-generation farm near Bakersfield that produces a variety of annual vegetable crops, including watermelons, onions, potatoes and carrots. With the lifelong mission “to enhance the soil and the land we farm”, the late Jeff Thomson perfected a suite of notable conservation approaches to better steward the soil, water and wildlife both on and off his land. His early use of subsurface drip irrigation and soil sensors has reduced water use on a number of his crops by up to 60%.
For more than 25 years, Thomson led collaborative efforts by Central Valley Joint Venture, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Tulare Basin Wetlands Association and Tulare Basin Wildlife Partners and with neighbors and sportsmen to protect, enhance and maintain important wetlands that benefit a variety of waterfowl, including imperiled bird species in the Tulare Basin. He established a protected wetland on his own property, a model that was followed by neighbors.
Throughout Thomson’s 850 acres of wetland, he went to great lengths to improve plant diversity. The wetland contains perennials such as Baltic rush and round stem tulles, and moist soil annuals such as swamp timothy and alkali bull rush. Thomson kept water depths at various levels to help provide diverse habitat for waterfowl, including a large population of shorebirds that resides on the property for nearly 150 days per year.
Thomson made it his life-long mission to improve soil health. He implemented a specific crop rotation of watermelon, followed by peppers, onions, fall potatoes and carrots. The rotation remains an effective way to control weeds, disease and insect build-up. Prior to planting potatoes, Thomson applied gypsum and ornamental sulfur to the land to improve water penetration and keep the soil at an optimal pH.
Jeff Thompson’s legacy lives on. He passed down his dedication to conservation to his children, who now manage the business. And his leadership influenced many others along the way.
“Mr. Thomson was the kind of farmer and landowner who inspired other farmers and conservationists,” said Robert Hansen, President of Tulare Basin Wildlife Partners. “He was the kind of person with unassailable credentials when it came to the ability to pay forward Leopold’s land ethic philosophy in an unthreatening way to other landowners during these challenging times of drought and climate change.”