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Two Central Valley agribusiness giants have joined forces to become the country’s largest stone fruit purveyor, the companies announced in a press release on Wednesday.

Fresno-based Gerawan Farming and Cutler-based Wawona Packing Co., the United States’ Nos. 1 and 2 top stone fruit growers, will merge. 

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. It’s unclear how the merger will affect employment at the Tulare County packing house. Gerawan announced it was hiring last week on its Facebook page.

Paine Schwartz, a Wawona investor, is helping to facilitate the merger. The firm will continue to be involved in the operation of the combined company.

“The merger builds upon the legacies and reputations of the two industry-leading companies and creates an enhanced platform for growth and innovation,” the companies stated in the press release. “The combined business will be able to better serve its customers and create significant opportunities for employees.”

Gerawan is a stone fruit grower that markets under the Prima brand. The company harvests and processes as many as 100,000 boxes of “premium quality fruit” daily, according to its website.

Wawona is a Tulare County packing house that processes more than 9,000 acres of stone fruit trees across the Valley. It bills itself as a leader in organic farming.

Dan Gerawan will lead the combined company as Chief Executive Officer and the merged entity’s largest individual shareholder.

“At Gerawan, innovating on a large scale to grow, pack and ship the world’s best fruit has been key to our success, and those efforts have always hinged on investing in our employees,” he said. “These same values underpin Wawona’s success. This merger is an exciting next step to unlock the full potential of both companies.”

Wawona’s Executive Chairman Brent Smittcamp said the packing house has taken measures in recent years to “accelerate growth,” pointing to the acquisition of Burchell Nursery Inc. last year.

“Now this historic merger with Gerawan takes it to yet another level,” he said. “We are eager to bring the benefits of this merger to our employees, suppliers and customers.” 

Smittcamp will also have a leadership role in the combined business. 

The management team will be comprised of leaders from both companies, according to the press release. Both Gerawan and Wawona are third-generation family businesses.

Stone fruit is an $850 million industry in Tulare County, according to the 2017 Ag Commissioner’s report. The 2018 report is due next month, according to the Ag Commissioner’s office. 

More than 100,000 acres are grown countywide.

This is a developing story.

Joshua Yeager covers water, agriculture, parks and housing for the Visalia Times-Delta and Tulare Advance-Register newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @VTD_Joshy. Get alerts and keep up on all things Tulare County for as little as $1 a month. Subscribe today.

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