DUETTE -- Florida's largest organic strawberry farm has sold off a huge chunk of its property to a real estate investment company in exchange for working capital and a lease that will keep its operations in Manatee County for decades to come.
Wish Farms, a Plant City-based company that grows and markets strawberries, blueberries and vegetables for the retail market, sold 808 acres owned by the company's G&D Farms subsidiary Sept. 26. The $13.8 million sale reduces G&D's land holdings in Manatee County to just 39 acres, according to county property records.
The buyer is Gladstone Management, a McLean, Va. company that operates a real estate investment trust. According to its website, Gladstone's typical property investment is in the $5 million to $20 million range.
J.C. Clinard, executive vice president of Wish Farms, said its farm operations along State Route 62 will not change. Under the terms of the sale-leaseback transaction, Wish Farms will lease the acreage from the Gladstone REIT for the next 20 years. The farm produces strawberries, organically grown strawberries and peppers.
Wish Farms' New York beginnings date back to the 1920s, but it did not begin growing operations until 1987 when company President Gary Wishnatzki founded G&D, according to the company's website. The company bought its Manatee County farmland in 1999 for $1.6 million.
Clinard said proceeds from the sale will go into purchasing more farmland and other "growth opportunities."
The deal was negotiated directly between the buyer and seller. Wish Farms has done business with Gladstone before, selling acreage in Plant City to the REIT in 2012.
"We know Gladstone," Clinard said. "They've been in the market buying some farms in Florida."
With its land purchase, Gladstone also picks up more than 30,000 square feet in warehouse buildings Wish Farms built on the property starting in 2007.
Wish Farms planted about 180 acres of organic strawberries in Manatee County this year.
That's about 75 percent of the organic strawberries produced in the entire state.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.