Prima Wawona’s Bankruptcy Sparks $370m Farmland Sale In California

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News in brief:
– Prima Wawona, a major stone fruit producer in Fresno, California, filed for bankruptcy, leading to the sale of over 16,000 acres of farmland valued at $370 million.
– The bankruptcy resulted in the layoff of 5,411 workers, including 3,743 seasonal employees, with a significant impact on the agricultural workforce in the region.

In a recent development impacting California’s agriculture sector, Prima Wawona, a leading stone fruit producer in Fresno, filed for bankruptcy in October 2023, citing over $600 million in debt. The aftermath of this financial turmoil now sees the impending sale of more than 16,000 acres of farmland valued at a staggering $370 million.

The Fresno Bee reports that Prima Wawona is set to lay off 5,411 workers, a move directly linked to the upcoming sale. Among those affected, 3,743 are seasonal employees, highlighting the widespread consequences of the bankruptcy.

The farmland slated for sale holds particular interest, with key irrigation districts such as Fresno Irrigation District, Alta Irrigation District, and Consolidated Irrigation District serving some of the parcels.

Prima Wawona: a quick rise and fall

Once hailed as the largest stone fruit grower in the United States, Prima Wawona achieved this status after acquiring Gerawan Farming in 2019 and adding the stone fruit breeding assets of Burchell Nursery in 2018. Paine Schwartz Partners invested in the company post-merger, estimating its value at $1 billion during that period.

The Fresno Bee local daily newspaper delves into the reasons behind the food producer’s downfall, pointing to mismanagement, a lack of understanding of the tree fruit industry, and ineffective high-priced consultants.

Sweet peach fruits growing on a peach tree branch in orchard
Sweet peach fruits growing on a peach tree branch in orchard. Image Source: iStock

Industry insiders also expressed disappointment over the collapse, with Dan Gerawan, the former CEO, lamenting, “The liquidation of Prima Wawona is a sad day for the generations of men and women who worked tirelessly to build and tend to these orchards over the last half-century.”

The talks to liquidate the company began late 2023 but there was push back from the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors, who were appointed in the Chapter 11 bankruptcy case. They had argued that the liquidation plan would ‘deprive general unsecured creditors of their right to participate in the confirmation process and gratuitously release valuable claims against third parties’, another news report said.

Chinwendu Ohabughiro
Chinwendu Ohabughiro
Chinwendu Gift Ohabughiro has a background in English and Literary Studies from Imo State University. She brings a fresh perspective to the world of agriculture writing. When she's not penning compelling content, she's likely lost in the pages of a thrilling mystery or treating herself to the sinful delight of chocolate.

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