Gladstone acquires California fig orchard for $23m

Kevin Herman, founder of the Specialty Crop Company, which has signed an eight-year lease on the property, tells Agri Investor why figs are ‘the perfect crop to be growing in California right now.’

NASDAQ-listed farmland REIT Gladstone Land Corporation has purchased a 951-acre farmland property in California dedicated to figs and pistachios for $23 million.

Gladstone also entered into an eight-year triple-net lease for the property with the Specialty Crop Company, a Madera, California-headquartered group that describes itself as the world’s largest grower of fresh and dried figs.

Located in Madera County, the property contains 751 acres dedicated to figs in addition to 224 acres of pistachios.

Gladstone managing director Bill Reiman said that, given its recent focus on pistachios, the company was excited to add another specialty crop to its portfolio in figs, for which he said there has been increased demand in recent years from health-conscious consumers.

“Both fig and pistachio trees can potentially remain in peak production for hundreds of years, and most of the crop is consumed domestically within the United States,” added president and chief executive David Gladstone.

Reiman added he was equally excited that the acquisition has brought the Specialty Crop Company into its stable of tenants.

“We look forward to what we hope are many rewarding years partnering with them,” said Reiman.

“Figs is our main gig”

Kevin Herman, president and founder of the Specialty Crop Company, told Agri Investor that his company – which offers farm management and development services to specialty crop growers in Madera and Merced counties – had managed the property that Gladstone purchased since its initial development growing both figs and pistachios about 20 years ago.

“Quite frankly, there’s a handful, at best, of folks that know how to farm those two crops,” Herman said. “When the owner started thinking about marketing the property, it made sense to have me be the third party that would either continue to manage the property through management, or through a long-term lease.”

Since its founding in 1989, Herman said, the Specialty Crop Company has come to farm about 9,000 permanent crops acres in Fresno, Madera and Merced counties. While the company does farm other crops that are widespread in the region such as almonds, pistachios, walnuts, kiwis and others, about half of its overall production is devoted to figs.

“We’re diversified, but figs is our main gig,” Herman summarized.

The Specialty Crop Company’s collaboration with Gladstone is still in its very early stages, Herman said, adding that his company is already helping assess potential acquisition opportunities in the region and is likely to rent more properties from Gladstone under the partnership.

The perfect crop

Recent years have seen growing demand for figs, Herman said, adding that the health benefits of fresh figs – including high levels of fiber, potassium and calcium – have been featured prominently in media outlets such as the Food Channel in recent years. Fresh figs are sold in cartons similar to those used for fresh strawberries, Herman said, and that recent growth has been driven largely by bulk purchases by national retailers including Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Costco.

Herman estimated that there are only about 10,000 acres of total fig production in the US so the 700-acre property purchased by Gladstone constitutes almost 10 percent of the entire market. According to the USDA, over the the past decade, fig production has declined by more than 30 percent to 31,200 tons annually.

“Like raisins, [fig] acres have been pulled out to chase the almond and pistachio market,” Herman explained. “It’s primarily just been owner/operators like myself that have been planting them.”

From the grower’s perspective, Herman said, the fig offers other advantages that can help navigate various regulatory and labor concerns currently facing producers of other crops.

“Figs take very little water and the dried figs themselves are mechanized,” he said. “It’s kind of the perfect crop to be growing in California right now.”