Thomas Merwin, from Clarksburg, California, receives a 2022 Nuffield International Scholarship supported by a collaboration of farm organisations and individuals from California in the United States.
Thomas is the General Manager and Vice President of Merwin Vineyards, a multi-generational family farm in the Sacramento River Delta region. Merwin Vineyards focuses on wine grape farming and the cultivation of grains and other row crops.
In addition, Thomas is co-founder and partner in Silt Wine Company, a winery and tasting room in Clarksburg. The business was awarded Sacramento Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year in 2018.
For the past several years, Thomas has served as a Director, Vice President, and currently serves as President of the Clarksburg Wine Growers and Vintners Association. Thomas earned a B.A. in International Relations from the University of California, Davis. During his education, Thomas studied as an Undergraduate Fellow with the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies in Washington D.C. and Israel. Prior to his undergraduate education, Thomas spent a year in Cochabamba, Bolivia as a Rotary Youth Exchange student.
For his scholarship, Thomas will study how family farms in California can survive and thrive.
"Many Californian family farms face workforce shortages, margin compression, dire drought conditions, increased regulatory pressures and lucrative offers from corporations and financial institutions to acquire their farms," he says.
"Given how challenging the situation is, I want to focus on how family farms can pivot or re-focus for long-term survival, looking at strategies and examples such as collaborating with institutional investors, vertical integration, specialisation, and joint venture partnerships."
Thomas will travel to Spain and France to study corporate, family, and cooperative farms and wineries, Latin America to research small cooperatives in conjunction with large corporate farms, and also visit the UK to study agritourism and agricultural finance.
"I believe this topic is important because family farms play a critical role in our local, national, and global agricultural community" he says. "I hope my research and experiences will inspire others to re-evaluate their business models and improve their odds for succession and survival".