uccessful Farming reports:
The Land Report bills itself as the Magazine of the American Landowner, and we back that up by producing the definitive annual survey of the nation’s largest private landowners. Not land owned by Uncle Sam. Not land owned by the states or tribal lands or church lands, but deeded land owned by individuals, families, and their corporate entities, including trusts and not-for-profits.
When Successful Farming magazine approached us about profiling the top U.S. farmland owners, we jumped at the opportunity. Why? Because no one understands dirt better than a farmer.
Before we dive in, keep two figures in mind. The first figure is 150,000 acres. That’s the smallest number of acres owned on the most recent Land Report 100. (Three families tied with that amount.) The second figure to consider is 2.2 million acres. That’s America’s largest landowner, Colorado’s John Malone.
The chairman of Liberty Media takes top honors as the largest private landowner in the country. Malone blames his good friend Ted Turner for giving him the land bug. He sure got bit bad. Malone’s 2.2 million acres edge out Turner’s 2 million acres. Northern California’s Emmerson family ranks third nationwide with just under 2 million acres of timberland in the Pacific Northwest. Here are farming’s first families.
5. SIMPLOT FAMILY – 82,500 FARMLAND ACRES
Jack Simplot (1909-2008) was a farmer’s farmer. In 1967, the Iowa native struck a deal with McDonald’s CEO Ray Kroc to supply the fast-food giant with frozen french fries. With that single transaction, his Boise-based J.R. Simplot Company went from supplying a fraction of McDonald’s spuds to prepping the lion’s share of one of America’s favorite guilty pleasures, the commercial french fry.
Simplot’s heirs oversee a $2.5 billion agricultural powerhouse that has interests in farming, ranching and cattle production, food processing, phosphate mining, fertilizer manufacturing, and other endeavors. Of the company’s 443,000 acres, 82,500 of them are farmland, primarily in western Idaho and eastern Washington. The Simplots produce hay, wheat, corn, sweet corn, barley, and potatoes. Lots of potatoes.
4. BOSWELL FAMILY – 150,000 FARMLAND ACRES
Friends and foes referred to James Boswell II (1923-2009) as “the King of California.” The apt moniker was richly deserved. At 29, Jim Boswell received a royal bequest: 50,000 acres in the San Joaquin Valley from his uncle and namesake. For the next five decades, he lorded over California’s Central Valley, tripling his family’s holdings and revolutionizing the arid landscape by converting large tracts not previously used for irrigated agriculture.
The King built dams. He diverted rivers. He made enemies and cultivated politicos in Sacramento. And he grew more cotton than anyone imagined possible. The Boswell family’s farms became (and remain) top producers of the extra-long staple pima cotton that goes into fabric blends and high-end apparel. In addition, J.G. Boswell Tomato Company prides itself on its farm-to-table approach. It maintains complete control of its tomatoes from seed to field and even through processing.
3. FANJUL FAMILY – 152,000 FARMLAND ACRES
Beginning in 1850, the Fanjuls produced sugar in their native Cuba for more than a century. That chapter came to a close when Fidel Castro overthrew Fulgencio Batista during the Cuban Revolution. Not surprisingly, leading landowners such as the Fanjuls lost everything. The family subsequently relocated to South Florida where Alfonso and Pepe Fanjul began their only-in-America story by founding Florida Crystals Corporation.
Today, the Fanjuls own more than 200 square miles of farmland in Florida’s Everglades Agricultural Area, where they produce sugarcane and row crops. During the most recent harvest, Florida Crystals processed 5.7 million tons of sugarcane on 152,000 acres, yielding 676,000 tons of raw sugar and 30 million gallons of blackstrap molasses. In addition to its sugar mills, sugar refinery, and rice mill, the family owns and operates North America’s largest biomass power plant.
1. OFFUTT FAMILY – 190,000 FARMLAND ACRES
Founded in 1964, R.D. Offutt Farms is a family-owned potato farming operation based in Fargo, North Dakota. The company actively engages research teams at the University of Minnesota and North Dakota State University to develop the most environmentally friendly practices while maintaining high-quality crops. The Offutts also own RDO Equipment, which sells and services agriculture, construction, environmental, positioning, surveying, and irrigation equipment from manufacturers including John Deere, Vermeer, and Topcon.
1.STEWART & LYNDA RESNICK – 190,000 FARMLAND ACRES
A serial entrepreneur, Stewart Resnick has applied his Midas touch to enterprises as varied as janitorial services and burglar alarms and to brands such as Teleflora and the Franklin Mint. In the 1970s, he bought 2,500 acres of oranges and lemons in Kern County that were being fire-saled.
This was followed by much larger tracts that companies such as Mobil and Prudential Life were eager to sell. Today, the couple’s $4 billion Wonderful Company produces scores of high-quality, healthy products such as Wonderful Halos Mandarins, Wonderful Pistachios, Wonderful Almonds, and POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice on their acres in California and Texas. The Resnicks’ FIJI Water? It’s bottled on the island of Viti Levu.