Prima Wawona farmland yields 28 potential buyers for 13,000 acres. See who’s interested

More than two dozen farmers have been identified in court documents as potential buyers of the more than 13,000 acres of prime farmland being liquidated by the bankrupt Prima Wawona farming company.

The farmland that lies within Fresno and Tulare counties represents some of the best land for farming, peaches, plums nectarines and citrus.

Since the company filed for bankruptcy last fall and recently announced plan to sell its assets, farmers have been lining up to take advantage of the once-in-a-generation opportunity.

“When your neighbor’s property goes up for sale, you try and buy it because it isn’t going to change hands very often,” said Michael Reimer, managing partner of Brandt Farms in Reedley. “This is some of the most productive farmland in the world.”

But anxious buyers will have to wait a bit longer. The land sales are on hold as the federal bankruptcy court in Delaware works through several legal motions before finalizing the bankruptcy.

Formed in 2019 with the merger of two long-time farming companies, Gerawan Farming and Wawona Packing, Prima Wawona became the largest grower of peaches, plums and nectarines in the United States.

But four years after the two companies united, a move assisted by the private equity firm of Paine Schwartz Partners, Prima Wawona filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Oct. 13. Court records show the company was saddled with more than $600 million in debt.

In the wake of the company’s spectacular collapse, more than 5,000 workers in Fresno and Tulare counties lost their jobs, and the company has to liquidate more than 13,000 acres of farmland.

Originally, the land was expected to be in the hands of the lenders by Feb. 8 and available for sale. But that has been delayed to Feb. 28.

Industry experts say the urgency in acquiring the land has to do with timing. Tree fruit farmers must prepare the trees for the upcoming season. That includes pruning branches, applying sprays to protect against disease, and thinning the fruit to maximize fruit quality and yield.

Lawyers are asking the court to approve the land sales sooner rather than later to ensure the new owners can harvest a crop. As part of the motion, 28 farmers, or their assignee, are identified as potential buyers. The farmers have also committed to putting down a deposit as a show of good faith.

The potential buyers include several small farmers wanting to buy one or two neighboring parcels. Others are large-scale farming companies with deep pockets that are seeking hundreds of acres. There are even some dairy farmers.

The largest offer is $40 million from Michael Amin, founder and CEO of Primex World Inc., a farming and real estate development company. Amin is interested in 1,102 acres.

Other sizable deals include Brett Britz, a member of the Britz family. Over the years, the family has grown tree fruit, cotton and citrus, and operated a fertilizer company.

Britz, who declined to comment, has submitted three offers, one for 160 acres in Tulare County for $6.4 million, another for 779 acres in Fresno County for $31 million.

Other potential buyers are Sun Valley Packing in Reedley, which is interested in 575.5 acres worth $18.5 million. An organization identified as B 17 LP, a Nevada limited liability partnership, has offered $10.7 million for 315 acres. And Greg Jackson of Kingsburg is hoping to acquire 243.5 acres in Tulare County for $8.7 million.

Two dairy operators have also emerged as potential buyers. The Elkhorn Dairy LLC in Visalia is interested in 117 acres for $3.5 million. Garret te Velde has offered $6.6 million for 240.5 acres in Tulare and Kings counties.

Kevin Day, a longtime farm advisor with the University of California’s Cooperative Extension Service, said farmers are getting antsy over taking possession of the property. Each has their own way of doing things and the potential buyers want to make sure the trees are being properly maintained.

Poor maintenance of a fruit tree could result in less fruit.

“You could see a decline in yield of anywhere from 30% to 75%,” Day said. “And your fruit will be small with a low sugar concentration.”

Court records show that the trees will be maintained until sales are complete, but that also comes at a cost that the lenders still have to shoulder.

Industry insiders say it is unclear how many of Prima Wawona’s acres will be converted to other crops, such as almonds, pistachios or citrus.

Also a factor is access to irrigation water. Many of the ranches are within water districts that provide higher quality surface water, as opposed to ground water that must be pumped.

Prima Wawona is not affiliated in any way with the San Joaquin Valley based, family owned and operated Wawona Frozen Foods.

Bankruptcy documents filed reveal a list of potential buyers of Prima Wawona properties, the size of the property, and their offer for the land.

Here’s who wants to buy:

2016 Cox Family Trust, 69 acres, $2,300,000

B 17 LP, 315 acres, $10,700,000

Brett Britz or assignee, 160 acres, $6,435,200

Brett Britz or assignee, 779 acres, $31,199,600

Efrain Yanez or assigns, 17.8 acres, $554,280

Elkhorn Dairy LLC, 117 acres, $3,518,100

Four ThirtyHoldings, LLC, 245 acres, $8,646,825

Garret te Velde or assignee, 40.5 acres, $1,220,000

Garret te Velde or assignee, 200 acres, $5,400,000

Greg Jackson, 243.5 acres, $8,765,700

Jason Morris and/or assignee, acres NA, $1,056,650

Javier and Cecilia Herrera Family Trust, acres NA, $1,638,000

Jeff Schletewitz and/or assignee, acres NA, $418,625

JP Farms and S&W Farming Co. Inc., or their assignees, 183 acres, $5,952,700

Matthew Hiett and/or assignee, acres NA, $625,000

Kirschenman Enterprise Sales LP & Jacob Rodgers, 35.9 acres, $1,079,400

Kirschenman Enterprise Sales LP & Jacob Rodgers, 125.3 acres, $3,761,400

Sun Valley Packing LP, 575.5 acres, $18,587,360

RSW Farming Co LLC, 100 acres, $2,050,000

Richard A. Schellenberg and Michelle M. Schellenberg, 38.37 acres, $1,649,910

Uppal Family Trust, 155.96 acres, $2,345,0000

Valley Fruit Farms, LP, 87.3 acres, $2,880,900

Wiebe Farms, Inc., 45.66 acres, $1,935,850

Donald R. Klassen Trust dated October 21, 2008, 18.3 acres, $641,000

Neil Zwart, 156 acres, $4,692,000

Mike Penner, 38.89 acres, $1,166,700,

Michael Amin or Assignee, 1,102 acres, $40,000,000

McClarty Farms or assigns, 76.97 acres, $2,578,495

Michael Forest, 16.63 acres, $548,790

Gonzalez Ranches, 37.25 acres, $1,117,500

Gonzalez Ranches, 27.82 acres, $834,600

Kirschenman Enterprise Sales LP & Jacob Rodgers, 36.7 acres, $1,155,000