Jon Jessen is one of the world's leaders in sustainable pest control and farming practices. He is chairman of the board of The Gowan Group, which he founded in 1962. The organization develops, markets and manufactures crop protection products, seeds and fertilizers. A systems-oriented agriculturalist with a longstanding interest in soil health – including the soil microbiome and its impact on crop growth – Jessen has significantly impacted the field of drylands agriculture over the course of decades.
Born in San Jose and raised on a small farm near Dos Palos, California, Jessen graduated from Dos Palos High School before attending the University of California, Davis. He graduated in 1956 with a Bachelor of Science in entomology and parasitology. A member of the ROTC in college, Jessen would go on to serve in the U.S. Army and earn the rank of second lieutenant. After serving in Korea, Jessen moved to Yuma where he would meet and marry his wife, Caroline Lott, in 1959.
In 1962, Jessen began his professional career working as an independent crop consultant and would foster an interest in developing biologically-based insect control. While fascinated by biology, agriculture and pest population dynamics, his calling was to work with a larger team, not as a sole practitioner. His venture grew into The Gowan Group, which works with farmers in Arizona, California and over 70 countries to identify solutions to critical pest problems best suited to local markets. Jessen also served on the Environmental Protection Agency's Federal Advisory Committee to implement the Food Quality Protection Act and was a longtime member of the board of directors for CropLife America, a national industry association.
Jessen has long supported the Yuma community, where he and his family still live. The Gowan Achievement Program, founded in 2008 by The Gowan Group, is a collaborative initiative with Yuma's Crane School District that prepares local students for college and the workforce. The Gowan Science Academy, founded in 2013, supports expanded STEM instruction in Yuma elementary and middle schools.
Jessen and his wife are also longtime supporters of the University of Arizona, having made numerous donations to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cooperative Extension, the College of Veterinary Medicine, the College of Medicine – Tucson, the Cancer Center and the Arthritis Center. Jessen endowed two chairs for Cooperative Extension faculty, and one chair each for the Sarver Heart Center, Steele Children's Research Center, and the Asthma and Airway Disease Research Center. Jessen is also a founding member and financial supporter of the Yuma Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture, the university's public-private partnership to provide rapid response to pressing issues facing desert crop production systems and the sustainable, responsible practices of local growers.