Farming today, thinking about tomorrow
January/February 2017 California Bountiful magazine
Story by Tracy Sellers
Photos by Paolo Vescia
Landowners recognized for conservation practices
Farmers and ranchers' livelihoods and way of life are tied directly to the land and their ability to use the resources entrusted to them. For many, their efforts to enhance those resources represent a lasting contribution they can make now to benefit generations to come.
Each year, the Leopold Conservation Award recognizes such landowners—those committed to stewardship and sustained economic viability who also practice innovation and contribute to their communities. In California, Mark and Dina Moore of Humboldt County were the 2016 recipients.
"We have committed our time, energy and resources in promoting and supporting the philosophy that working landscapes go hand in hand with conservation," Mark Moore said.
C. Jeff Thomson of Kern County and Ken and Matt Altman of San Diego and Riverside counties were finalists for the award. In California, the Leopold Conservation Award is presented by the Sand County Foundation, California Farm Bureau Federation and Sustainable Conservation. The S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation and the Nature Conservancy are major sponsors as well.
Mark and Dina Moore, Lone Star Ranch, Humboldt County
Mark and Dina Moore
Managing with future generations in mind
The Moore family's ranching tradition in Humboldt County dates back to 1896, when Mark Moore's great-great-grandfather purchased the first of the present-day holdings. Today, Mark, wife Dina and their children continue the legacy, striving to balance ecological and production goals in all aspects of the ranch's operation. In addition to producing beef cattle and timber, Lone Star Ranch provides high-quality habitat for a variety of wildlife.
"For me, conservation is a principle that really is so closely aligned with how we live our lives," Dina Moore said. "We have a huge responsibility to take care of the resources that benefit the general public."
The ranch employs numerous practices aimed at conservation, including sustainable beef grazing and timber harvest, goat grazing for vegetation management and a heavy-equipment business to undertake restoration projects and improve roads. Since 2000, the Moores have worked closely with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies to implement voluntary conservation efforts to reduce sediment in streams, thus improving habitat for salmon and steelhead.
The Moores say they carefully manage their land with future generations in mind, and everyone plays a role in the ranch's long-term success.
"We should always be looking at new and innovative ways to do things so that these resources grow and blossom over time," Mark Moore said. "I think that each one of us should think about what we can do to conserve and then go out there and just do it."
C. Jeff Thomson, Thomson International, Kern County
C. Jeff Thomson
Striving for innovation at every turn
For C. Jeff Thomson, farming has always been about more than growing crops on the Kern County land his family has worked since the 1800s. As chairman of Thomson International—a grower-shipper-packer of watermelons and onions, and a grower of peppers, potatoes and carrots—Thomson strives to maintain his family's legacy for future generations.
Innovation is key. The family has installed GPS equipment on all of their larger tractors, which provides more accuracy when digging rows for their crops. This reduces fuel consumption and allows fertilizing and harvesting operations to be carried out with greater precision. In addition, Thomson rotates crops in a meticulous fashion that helps control weeds, diseases and insect buildup, and reduces the need for crop amendments.
With water always at a premium, the family makes every drop count. For example, they manage irrigation timing by using technology that allows them to monitor soil moisture from their cellphones.
Thomson said he considers the wise use of resources an innate part of agriculture.
"I have always believed farmers really are the original conservationists," he said.
In addition to managing the family business, Thomson chairs the Tulare Basin Wetlands Association. The nonprofit works to restore wetlands in the Tulare Basin, which provides habitat for 125 threatened, endangered or sensitive plant and animal species. Thomson said he wants to rebuild this area for present and future generations to enjoy and hopes that his wetlands work will inspire other farmers to "pay it forward."
"We envision a future where wildlife habitat and human needs co-exist and both can enjoy this unique area," Thomson said.
Matt and Ken Altman, Altman Specialty Plants, San Diego and Riverside counties
Matt and Ken Altman
Focusing on water-reduction strategies
Thinking outside the box: That's what Ken Altman and his son, Matt, try to do every day as they run Altman Specialty Plants, a family-owned company that specializes in drought-tolerant and water-efficient plants.
Started in 1975, Altman Plants is one of the nation's largest horticultural growers, offering a wide variety of cacti, succulents, annuals, perennials and other specialty plants, while being innovators in their field.
Altman Plants raises 5,000 plant species using integrated pest management, which controls pests by managing the overall ecosystem of a farm. Ken and Deena Altman also are founders of the Center for Applied Horticultural Research, a nonprofit research and teaching center
dedicated to advancing a sustainable horticulture industry.
"Its main purpose is to address, through research, the practical issues the nursery and floriculture industry faces every day," Ken Altman said.
In 2014, the Altmans embarked on their biggest project yet: a water recycling system at their Riverside County growing site that captures, treats and reuses water from irrigation runoff. The project has reduced water use per acre by 50 percent. In addition, soil moisture sensors were recently installed in their container plants to further minimize water use.
"We pride ourselves on being innovative in every which way we can," Matt Altman said. "As a farm and nursery, we're really reliant on water. We knew we had to find a way to recycle the water we were using, and we did."