Sunday, March 11, 2012

The King of California and the Largest Farm in the United States (BWEL pink sheets)

Two confessions:
1) We have J.G. Boswell on one of our monitors. ($770.00 last).
2) This blog is one of those we've been reading and not linking.
From Aquanomics:
In this book, Mark Arax and Rick Wartzman illustrate the fascinating details behind a family that combined hard work, farming wisdom and political maneuvering to turn "lake-bottom land" into a farming empire, with help from government workers who may have ignored the Public interest and badly-written and ill-enforced government laws.

The book (subtitle: "JG Boswell and the Making of a Secret American Empire") traces the story of the Boswell family, which left Georgia's cotton lands for California. The Boswell began marketing cotton in Los Angeles and then moved into production, turning land, abundant water, and very sharp management into one of the largest farming operations in the US and world. I won't summarize the fascinating, well-written story, but here are some notes I took on the way:
  • During a conflict over flows from the Kings river in the 1880s, Mr. Church raised his dam on the river, reducing water available to downriver farmers. This action -- more akin to "possession is ownership" than riparian rights or prior appropriation -- invoked a similar response: the farmers downstream blew up the dam and got "their" water. See this post on irrigation in the West 100 years ago, including how the government has to subsidize projects too risky and unprofitable for private companies.
  • Huge land grants from the Spanish and Mexican eras were mostly along the coast of California, not in the Central Valley. The Mexicans allocated huge tracts in the Valley just before California was annexed by the US in 1850. These tracts were reaffirmed by the US Land Commission for California. In 1871, 516 men owned 9 million acres of California land. Those who later abused the Reclamation Act of 1902 -- including Southern Pacific -- had lots of practice.
The book is one of the few places to get information on the largest cotton grower in the country. They DO NOT file with the SEC. You might be able to get an annual report from the company if they pick up the phone. They often don't answer.

Back in 2003 the Los Angeles Times did a major story on the company, outside of the book probably the most words strung together on the subject.
We have some other links but it's basically a land/water/mineral rights play with cash flow.