Meet a Farmer: Tim Thiesen of Rio Vista Fruit Farms
Meet Tim Thiesen, Co-Owner of Rio Vista Fruit Farms and third-generation farmer. From a young age, Tim loved being on the farm and knew it was in his blood to follow in his father’s footsteps. Learn more about him, why his employees are more like family to him and how he’s taking care of the land he farms on!
CA GROWN: Tell me about the history of the company and how you got involved.
Tim: So I went to Fresno Pacific University, but I didn’t go to school for farming. I’ve always been a very hands-on learner, so while I enjoyed going to school, it wasn’t for the learning aspect. I was always underneath the tractors with the mechanic or watching my dad, grandpa and uncles work on things and that’s how I learned. I ended up with a double major in marketing and business administration. After college, I had the opportunity to work with a company in the UK via the Giumarra Companies. I was kind of the go-between between the old school farmer with proven ways of farming (boots on the ground, no phone in your hand, feeling the dirt, walking the fields, etc.) As much as I like technology, that’s never going to go away. So Giumarra was developing software for the Produce Traceability Initiative and they needed someone who could talk to the farmer but also talk to the computer guys. I was able to work with these amazing computer programmers and I thought it was the coolest thing ever because you write something and then it does it for you (that’s computer programming in a nutshell). During that time, I was in charge of our packing shed and it was like my baby. Since technology and writing programs was so interesting to me, I thought to myself “I can make our our packing shed more efficient.” So I learned writing skills from those programmers and for the next six years, we developed an application that allowed you to track field to fork traceability – who picked it, when it was picked, where it was packed, who packed it, transit to the cold stores and from cold stores to arms. So from there, I started my own company called Agritech Consulting and I partnered with Rio Vista Fruit Farms. I’m going to be 38-years-old and I think I’m in a good age group because I understand my grandpa’s generation and also the younger generation after me, so I’m able to bridge that gap effectively.
CA GROWN: What does a typical day look like for you?
Tim: Generally, I plan the next day so the guys have their lists of what needs to get sprayed, shredded, raked, blown, etc. When I leave the house, I go and check on my tractor drivers and our crews are also pruning, so either my dad or I will check on them to make sure everything’s going well and that the trees are being shaped properly. We’re very fortunate that one of our crew bosses has been with us for 30 years now and there’s not a whole lot you can teach a guy who’s been here for that long. After that, I’ll go check on the guys on the tractor to make sure they’re good. Then I head into the office and catch up. My sister runs our office and she’s an amazing asset. Then throughout the day, it really just depends. Yesterday I was working on tractors all day. Today, I’m getting parts. Tomorrow, who knows what it’s going to be. Everyday is different, it’s unique and it’s probably one of the things I love the most, the diversity of the day. During the summer months it’s crazy because that’s when our harvest is and we have a perishable commodity. So you have to just go and go and go. You start the day picking early, then it gets hot and the guys are going crazy in the field. But one of the things I love is to hear people laughing because I know how hard our employees work. To hear them laugh on top of working so hard is pretty rewarding.
CA GROWN: What are some ways your company gives back to the community?
Tim: My family and I are very involved in our church with life groups and bible studies. We also do projects like yard work at the Marjaree Mason Center, we redid the landscaping at a church in southwest Fresno and we’re involved with Break the Barriers through fundraisers. I’m also involved with FFA here in Reedley as an advisor and it’s pretty awesome being involved in that. I didn’t grow up in FFA, but it’s something that I think is needed and I totally enjoy it.
CA GROWN: What drew you into the farming profession?
Tim: Farming is something I’ve just always wanted to do. I grew up with my family working on the farm and I loved seeing them work together as a family. I also love the process of growing something throughout the year to see it come to fruition and to harvest. It’s so gratifying to see that. You have 340 days of prep work, so when that fruit comes right off the tree and your kids to take a bite out of it and taste it, that’s extremely gratifying. Plus, seeing our employees come to work and hearing their stories and doing life out on the farm is a lifestyle that I’ve always wanted to live. Don’t get me wrong, farming is super hard. It’s long hours, long days and what not, but there’s a lot of freedom to it.
CA GROWN: What are your hobbies or pastimes when you’re not farming?
Tim: Spending time with my family for sure. My wife and I got married five years ago and she’s the opposite of me in a lot of ways. I’m OK with spending the evening at home just chilling and she’s more extroverted and people-oriented. Our son, Hunter, is just awesome and all he wants to do is spend time with mom and dad. And we have a 12-week-old and he’s a chill little guy who just rolls with the punches. That’s definitely my first hobby, but I also love being in the High Sierra or anywhere outdoors where I can get away because I love to hunt and fish. Being away from the crazy and recharging somewhere beautiful like that is amazing.
CA GROWN: What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a farmer?
Tim: They need to know what they’re getting into. I would never talk someone out of farming, because I think it’s a great way of life. But there’s definitely a lot of work and there’s a lot of ups and downs. It’s also a labor of love and if you don’t love it, you’re going to struggle with the highs and lows. Some years prices are great and some years, prices are horrible. My great-uncle used to tell me all the time to watch my pennies and the dollars would take care of themselves. What he meant by that is that farming has many ups and downs and when it’s really tough, that’s when you’re going to spend the money that you saved. And when it’s really good, save your money so that you can mitigate some of those highs and lows. Also, you have to be honest. I definitely think this is an industry where people still respect honesty.
CA GROWN: What is something that’s unique about your business or makes it stand out?
Tim: One thing that’s unique to us is how we treat our team and the employees I get to work with on a daily basis. We have seasonal employees that have been with us for 40+ years and I think that’s pretty rare. It’s probably a testament to my grandpa and my dad and it’s something that I think moving forward needs to continue if we want to be successful. My dad has always preached about being efficient and intentional about everything that you do. What also separates us from other farms is being efficient and the employees that we have. When someone has been with you for 15 years, 29 years or 40 years and they want to come back every year, it just makes my job easy.
CA GROWN: What has contributed to your past success and what are you doing to ensure continued success going forward?
Tim: Our past success includes the family, the employees we have and our ability to be efficient. Going forward, it would be understanding the value of technology but still respecting the importance of boots on the ground.
CA GROWN: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Tim: Working all year-round to produce a fruit that is tasty and eating it right off the tree. Seeing my son eat it and hearing him tell me “daddy, this is good” is very rewarding. Another thing is working a long day during the hot summer days and we’re all tired, but we’re still laughing. I’ve always heard my dad say “I want you to go home tired, but I want you to go home with a smile on your face.” I think that says a lot because we all expect each other to work hard because that’s just what we do, but it’s really rewarding to work that hard and laugh at the same time because the chemistry is right.
CA GROWN: As a California farmer, we know that you have a long list of activities you undertake on your farm to care for the land and its resources. What are one or two ways that you’re most proud of or you feel are innovative ways you care for your land?
Tim: We have amazing water technology and 19 years ago when we started doing this, it was only one of two systems in California. It’s an 80-acre block that controls it like it’s a greenhouse. You have moisture sensors in the ground telling you where the water is at. Then we have a computer system that basically irrigates to exactly what the tree needs based upon evapotranspiration, solar radiation, etc. And you’re giving your soil micro bursts of water while it’s maintaining the water below. For example, in the afternoon when it’s really hot, the tree stresses and pulls water from the top soil if it hasn’t evaporated off and it also pulls from the bank of water below. You want that water below to always be there so the top layers are constantly feeding the tree and introducing nutrients. One of the big things right now is nitrogen levels and this is a practice that we’ve been doing for awhile, so we’re never putting nitrogen in our water where it’s going to leech past our root zone. So you give it that short burst of water with a boost of potassium, phosphorous, calcium or whatever and we never wash it through. This is something that we implemented nine years ago and now there’s big time regulations for it. So definitely water and nitrogen management are things we’ve done really well over the years to help care for our land.