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Leaked documents expose plans to sell off 52,000-acre agricultural empire in Fresno County

The Assemi family is putting up to 52,000 acres up for sale.
Gregory Weaver
The Assemi family is putting up to 52,000 acres up for sale.

The Assemi family, a major player in California agriculture, is considering a massive sale of its landholdings with the help of a Seattle investment bank – a move that a key shareholder, involved in an ongoing family feud, claims is being done without transparency.

According to a leaked business prospectus obtained by Fresnoland, the deal could encompass tens of thousands of acres of farmland. The family-owned business could net over $1 billion from the deal.

The proposed sale, internally known as "Project Green," could involve approximately 28,000 acres of planted land, critical water rights, and processing facilities like Maricopa Orchards and Touchstone Pistachio Company – the latter boasting annual revenues exceeding $170 million.

While the full scope of the potential sale remains unclear, the move would represent a significant shift in the Assemi family's agricultural portfolio.

Co-owner Darius Assemi did not respond to a request for comment but, in a blog post, said the family intends to keep some of its assets.

“We are not getting out of farming,” said Assemi on his website. “Just as we’ve always done, we are evaluating our portfolio, and right-sizing it but keeping our core operation.”

The maneuver is unprecedented in scale. The Assemi’s motivations are unclear, but recent stories point to a troubled pistachio market, ongoing water scarcity, and potential fractures within the family-run enterprise.

Kevin Assemi, son of family patriarch Farid Assemi, recently sued relatives for control of many of the assets now listed for sale. He confirmed these assets are being offered and said numerous individuals have contacted him regarding the listing. Two sources with ownership stakes in ranches included in the prospectus, one being Kevin Assemi, indicated they were unaware of any potential sale.

“I don't agree with selling off large portions of our assets and putting at risk so many of our employees’ jobs,” he said. “There are better ways to do this which ensures continuity of the business and protects people’s jobs.”

Kevin Assemi said it was a “good theory” that the rationale for the sell-off partially has to do with the family’s outstanding debts. He clarified that much of the holdings are within a family trust, benefiting himself, a sibling, and another relative.

“The majority of this is owned by the second generation and if they sell this off, after tax and after paying off debts, there won't be anything left,” he said.

Fresnoland left messages seeking comment from Maricopa chief Scott Rhodes and Cascadia Capital, the Seattle investment bank identified in the documents as assisting with the sale.

Data associated with the business prospectus show the document was created in February.

The document reveals a complex water portfolio and a distribution network spanning the globe.

These include water rights across seven California water districts, granting the ability to meet the farm's roughly 75,000-acre feet of annual water demand during dry years through groundwater, banked water capacity, and district allocations.

The document also shows a significant export of the Assemi's pistachio products. In 2023, about 75% of the pistachios out of the family’s Touchstone Pistachio Company were shipped to either Europe or Asia.

End of a farming dynasty? Potential sale signals changing times

The Assemi family's potential sale could signal the end of an era in Fresno County. In 1974 Farid Assemi, the eldest son of a prosperous agricultural family from Tehran, arrived in the Central Valley to work for a pump business. His family's Iranian fortune, built on wells, farm equipment, and land holdings, according to Fresno Bee reports, gave him a head start.

Farid Assemi, a mechanical engineer trained in England, joined his brothers, Darius and Farshid, in navigating Fresno's business landscape. They dabbled in European menswear and home-building ventures, before a fateful leap into farmland ownership in the late 1980s.

In 2004, the Assemis struck a deal with agribusiness titan Stewart Resnick as he built his nut empire. Resnick's Wonderful co-op became the key to bringing the family's pistachios to market, handling processing, packaging, and promotion.

Resnick and Farid Assemi forged a close bond over the following decade, according to a recent court case. A 2014 agreement extending their partnership included a $75 million loan from Resnick to the Assemis. Confidential documents later revealed that any disputes were meant to be settled directly between the two men.

The Resnick-Assemi alliance saw its greatest power in 2015. That April, Resnick granted the Assemi family access to a revolutionary new pistachio variety, a move that would dramatically increase the family’s yields.

In the late 2000s, a lab funded by Stewart Resnick made a breakthrough: "super trees" that promised yields 25% higher than standard pistachio stock. But Resnick didn't hoard this potential windfall. Instead, he ordered his scientists to give Farid Assemi "all the trees he requested," – even before negotiating a price, his lawyers claim.

By 2015, Assemi had planted over 100,000 of the exclusive trees on land outside of Resnick's control. This gave the family a massive competitive edge, fueling their own pistachio processing ambitions under the Touchstone brand.

Resnick's gift of the "super trees" was meant to seal their partnership well into the 2020s. He planned to deliver over 400,000 of the high-yield trees to the Assemis. But the once-friendly business relationship soured in 2017. Farid pushed for a renegotiated loan, using the trees' potential to justify his demands. Internal documents revealed that the Assemis expected to nearly double their pistachio output as the trees matured.

Sensing a power shift, Resnick believed Farid had betrayed him, Resnick’s lawyers claim – after all, the "super trees" were planted on land that could supply rival processors. The Assemis' friendship with Resnick withered, and contract talks collapsed.

In 2018, Farid dropped a bombshell on his former friend Resnick: The Assemis would build their own pistachio plant, becoming his direct competitor. Yet, the family faced a financial crisis, according to court records. Resnick's lawyers claim they were deeply in debt, making such an ambitious project nearly impossible.

Tensions between the pistachio titans deepened. In 2019, Resnick's Wonderful Company withheld a bonus payment to a former Assemi manager, prompting the Assemis to question whether Resnick would honor the final year of their lucrative contract. Soonafter, the Assemi’s filed a lawsuit against Resnick in 2019.

The pressure mounted. The Assemis had to repay Resnick's $75 million loan by 2021. In a 2019 email, Farid admitted to his brother: "Our cash is very, very tight…I am scrambling." Their situation could soon implode.

Despite a brief respite when a Fresno County Superior Court jury awarded the Assemis $38.7 million in a lawsuit against Resnick in December 2023, the specter of financial ruin looms: Resnick is planning on appealing the $170 million case.

Within days of the original jury verdict, Kevin Assemi, the oldest son of Farid, filed a lawsuit alleging incompetence and poor health of his dad, which led to a mismanagement of the family’s business ventures and $500 million in outstanding debt. On Tuesday, family members involved in the suit alleged that Kevin moved hundreds of thousands of dollars by forging an ownership agreement. Kevin insisted the allegations were “untrue” and that operating agreement was accurate.

He said potential farming asset sale could finally tear the family apart.

“I'm going to continue to push forward to try to bring in other opportunities to save the business without having to sell it off.”

This article first appeared on Fresnoland and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

From the KVPR editor: This story involves members of the Assemi family whose companies Maricopa Orchards, Central Distributing and Granville Homes are current or recent sponsors of KVPR.