2017 Leopold Conservation Award Finalist: C. Jeff Thomson International

When Jeff Thomson thinks about conservation, he doesn’t just think about his individual fields. From the people you work with to the practices you implement, stewarding the land and its resources for the future takes constant care and balance. C. Jeff Thomson International’s diversified operations and wetland management make them a fantastic candidate for the 2017 Leopold Conservation Award.

Jeff Thomson is a fifth-generation farmer in Bakersfield, CA who grows a variety of crops on a farm that dates back to the 1890s. C. Jeff Thomson International specializes in annual vegetable crops, from watermelons and carrots to onions and potatoes, and what Jeff calls “responsible ground management” that’s kept them thriving and innovating for decades.

Caring for the Land

Jeff and his employees have worked hard to establish a suite of notable conservation approaches to better steward the soil, water and wildlife both on and off his land. From early adoption of micro-sprinkler irrigation when it was still standard practice to flood fields, to making the switch to subsurface drip tape on certain crops that reduces their water use by up to 60%, Jeff remains steadily ahead of the curve. The farm also uses soil-moisture probes and tracks each crop’s inputs with up-to-the-second information on when their crops need water – and when they don’t.

Jeff also pays close attention to minimizing the need for pesticides and other chemicals on his crops through integrated pest management, an environmentally-friendly strategy for controlling pests as naturally as possible for the long term. This includes natural weed management, habitat manipulation, and crop rotation to build soil health and prevent pathogen build-up, without the need for extensive pesticide use.

Building Better Habitats

In addition to keeping his operation flourishing, Jeff also recognizes the role his land can play in providing habitat for migratory birds to keep them thriving. Crop rotation helps keep a variety of fowl supplied with valuable cover, and with insects as a food source. Additionally, Jeff established an 850-acre wetland in partnership with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to benefit a variety of waterfowl populations, including many endangered birds.

This wetland is managed with variable water depths and a wide variety of perennial and annual moist-soil plants so various species can thrive side by side. Huge numbers of shorebirds reside in the wetland for nearly half the year.

Award co-sponsors Sand County Foundation and the California Farm Bureau Federation and Sustainable Conservation will announce the 2017 Leopold Conservation Award winner in November, so stay tuned!