Tom Merwin, Merwin Vineyards

Family Ties in the Delta

The Merwins have farmed the productive lands in and around Sacramento and the North Delta region since the 1860s. Over the decades, the family shifted its focus from raising livestock to growing asparagus, tomatoes, sugar beets and grains.

For me and my farm, alfalfa equals California milk and cheese.
— Tom Merwin

Today, their 1,000-acre farm in Clarksburg, which is led by Gary Merwin and managed by his son, Tom, remains diversified. Alfalfa is sold to the San Joaquin Hay Growers Association, which provides feed for many of the diaries in California. Onions are processed in Gilroy, and seven varieties of winegrapes are sold to California wineries, including a label Tom started in 2015 with two childhood friends.

Using Data to Reduce Waste and Increase Efficiency

Being part of the family business wasn’t part of Tom’s professional plan, but after graduating college, circumstances brought him back to the farm. At 32, Tom represents a new, far younger generation of men and women leading farm operations – U.S. Department of Agriculture census data shows that the average age of a farmer in the U.S. is 55.9. He says his generation is particularly accepting of incorporating technology data onto the farm.

Collecting and analyzing statistics has become critically important to how Merwin Vineyards is run. Access to real-time information allows the team to micro target problems, which reduces waste and saves time and money.

In response to drought, the Merwins have begun to convert older vineyards from flood to drip irrigation and are investing in technologies to monitor soil moisture. The family also grows cover crops like legumes and triticale, a hybrid of wheat and rye, within rows of grapevines to help maintain moisture, keep dust down and reduce erosion. The practice also helps improve the soil itself, adding organic matter into the ground naturally. Tom says that wildlife conservation is also part of the farm’s focuses – boxes for owls and wood ducks provide habitat, and all farming is done in ways designed not to interfere with Swainson's hawk populations.

Pride in Leadership

As a graduate of the esteemed California Agricultural Leadership Program, Tom travelled the globe to learn about challenges facing growers around the world and the solutions that could be applied back in Clarksburg. He said the experience not only helped him grow as a leader, but underscored the need for the farm community to rally together to tell the public about its commitment to sustainability.

Sometimes it feels like farmers are under siege, but it is our responsibility to tell our stories,” Tom says. “I’m not embarrassed about what we do on the farm, I have pride in what we do to produce high quality goods for our customers.
— Tom Merwin