By Stephanie Metzinger
Plant. Water. Harvest. Repeat.
Jack Bros., Inc. has mastered this technique, making the exact calculations needed to achieve longevity and success. For more than a century, the Jack family has made it a common practice to be ahead of the curve by anticipating changes and utilizing the latest technologies.
“Our farm is very innovative, and we’re not just depending on what’s been done by generations past,” said Alex Jack, a third-generation farmer and owner of Jack Bros. “We are always looking five years ahead to see where things are going and adapt to them now because those that are late to the switch won’t be here in 10 to 20 years.”
This type of forward-thinking leadership is what has propelled Jack Bros. to achieve more than 100 years of success. Lady Luck, he said, has also played a role in helping his family farm reach this monumental milestone.
“Having good fortune with weather, prices and implementation of regulations is only part of the equation. You also need to have future generations who want to be a farmer,” Alex said. “Now you’re starting to see why luck, and God’s grace towards farmers, is the key to family farms making it to 100 years.”
Jack Bros. Builds Extraordinary Legacy through Tech Adaptations
The legacy of Jack Bros. dates back to 1914 when Alex’s grandfather Earl, founded the farm alongside his brother, Alvin. In the late 1950s, Earl’s son, Neal, returned to the farm to take over operations after serving in World War II and the Korean War. Neal brought many of the innovations that were used in WWII back to the ranch and modernized that technology to simplify and enhance operations.
He led Jack Bros. to become one of the first farming companies in the Imperial Valley to have car-to-car radios—the radios very similar to the ones he used in reconnaissance missions during the war—to communicate with employees in the field. Neal also brought in one of the first drivable service trucks used to service equipment in the field. In the mid-1970s, he tried wheel line sprinklers, and a few years later was among the first to put in buried drip.
“Back in the ‘70s, water conservation was not an issue like it is now,” said Alex. “But even back then, my father was trying to set a good example of conserving water.”
Neal put almost every dollar made during his tenure into land improvements, cement ditches and underground drainage. His efforts paved the way for Alex to build upon this foundation and enable the farm to continue its legacy of innovation and dedication to advancing the industry.
“My grandfather spent all of his money buying ground. My father basically spent all of his money improving the ground. And then I am the one who gets to play with it,” said Alex.
Since Alex took the reins in 1989, he has implemented numerous groundbreaking projects in an effort to create a solid foundation for the next generation. To date, he has put in approximately 1,100 acres of underground piping for drip irrigation, installed electric pumps throughout the ranch, and eliminated nearly all of his diesel booster pumps, which were previously used to power the farm’s sprinkling operation and drip system.
“Not only are we trying to be a better farmer, but we are also trying to stay greener, be smarter with our water and predict what food safety regulations are going to look like in the future,” he said. “In a few years here, I don’t think regulators will allow water to touch the plants so I’m just trying to position us to be in an ideal situation.”
Additionally, Alex has tapped everyday organisms to help the farm achieve a more sustainable future. He is currently using earthworms to combat soil diseases and reduce the need for pesticides. Alex has invested $130,000 into building a worm farm where he will use their castings, or poop, as an organic form of fertilizer for his crops. The castings will be put into bags to percolate in water and the resulting “black tea-like” mixture will be injected into the drip system to protect the soil and crop.
“Worms are fabulous for crops because they help fight soil diseases and suppress whitefly and aphid,” he said.
In addition to the worm farm, Alex has been working with algae to minimize the number of commercial fertilizers used on his crops. He is currently on round two of building a farm for algae, which, when infused into the irrigation water, will enable soil particles to release more phosphates and therefore require less fertilizer. Alex is also in the midst of installing geothermal heating technology to naturally heat and cool his buildings while significantly reducing the impact on Mother Earth.
Alex credits “the University of YouTube” for many of his ideas, but gives praise to Western Growers for allowing him to focus on building and sustaining his business while having the peace of mind that industry-wide issues are being expertly handled.
Founding Member Counts Western Growers among Keys to Longevity and Success
Twelve years after Earl and Alvin established the Jack Bros. empire, they once again decided to partner to launch a new type of enterprise. At the time, the farming industry was in flux and growers were faced with an onslaught of transportation issues. The Jack brothers, along with a handful of other growers, knew that the industry needed one united voice to battle and overcome these challenges.
On March 9, 1926, this small group of pioneers established the Western Grower Protective Association. The association, now known as Western Growers, has grown from a transportation-focused advocacy agency into a well-rounded support system that provides specialty crop farmers across California, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico with a wealth of resources and assistance. In addition to continuing to promote fair trade in the industry, Western Growers is now a powerful voice in Sacramento, Phoenix and Washington, D.C., advocating on behalf of farmers and working with policymakers to ensure the success and stability of the agriculture industry.
“We are incredibly proud that our family is a founding member and the only original member of Western Growers that is left,” said Alex. “They are always fighting for the issues that impact farmers most, and over the years, they have just been rock solid.”
One instance, he said, where Western Growers truly flexed its muscle was during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, where the association swiftly reversed a directive that would have prevented farmers from continuing to grow the food needed to feed the nation. When the two planes flew into the Twin Towers, the third hit the Pentagon and the fourth crash-landed in Pennsylvania, the federal government grounded all aircraft; this included crop dusters and helicopters that sprayed crops. Western Growers immediately reached out to Washington, D.C., insisting that these important agricultural air vehicles resume flight. They succeeded in their effort.
“Western Growers, with all their might and power, jumped in and got that situation squared away within a four or five-day period which was astounding considering all that the government was going through at the time during 9/11,” said Alex.
As Alex mentors the next cohort to take over the farm, with his son, Russell, at the helm on the business side, he plans to continue and build upon the nearly century-long relationship with Western Growers. Alex notes how he is proud that both Jack Bros. and Western Growers have grown, side by side, throughout the years, adapting to unpredictable circumstances and leading change within the industry.
He looks forward to sharing his passion for farming with future generations and will continue to ensure that his farm is on the cutting edge, flourishing for another 100 years to come.
“I look at life like a teeter-totter. You are either going up or going down. Right now, our teeter-totter is straight up in the air,” he said.
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