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Bakersfield's Jess Smith & Sons Cotton cuts deal with Singapore conglomerate

CLOUDS

In this 2015 file photo, clouds loom over a field of cotton already picked in southeast Bakersfield.

A major cotton merchandising firm based in Bakersfield, 78-year-old Jess Smith & Sons Cotton LLC, has reportedly been acquired by a large, international agri-business company based in Singapore.

Olam International Limited stated in a document filed in February that it purchased 100 percent of Jess Smith & Sons in the second half of 2020. The filing with Singapore's stock exchange alternately referred to the Bakersfield company as Global Agri Marketing Inc.

Jess Smith & Sons buys cotton from growers in Arizona, California and Texas then sells it to textile mills. It's part of a family of companies that includes local almond grower and processor JSS Almonds LLC.

The company and its CEO, Ernie Schroeder Jr., did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

In an email late Thursday, Olam called the Bakersfield company's deal with U.S. subsidiary Richardson, Texas-based Olam Cotton a "strategic agreement to market specialty cotton."

"This agreement, which combines Olam’s downstream strengths with JSS’s superior upstream performance, presents many great opportunities for both companies to provide superior value to growers and customized solutions for their end-users," spokeswoman Hung Hoeng wrote. "The clear winners are the Jess Smith cotton growers, who will continue to realize the best value for their cotton with even greater access to global markets."

On Friday Olam sent another email insisting it had not bought Jess Smith & Sons, only "certain cotton assets" of the company.

Cotton's prominence in California agriculture has slid substantially, as it has in Kern. The amount of acreage set aside for cotton production in the Golden State declined 63 percent between 1959 and 2017. In 2019, for perhaps the first time ever, cotton failed to make Kern County's list of 20 top-grossing crops.

Olam says it supplies food, ingredients, feed and fiber to more than 25,000 customers around the world. It operates in more than 60 countries, farming, processing and distributing a variety of products sourced from some 5 million farmers worldwide.

Jess Smith & Sons Cotton LLC was founded by Jess Smith, a farmer from Jonesboro, Ark. The company's website says its sole owner since 1983 has been the Schroeder family.

"Since the company was founded in 1943, Jess Smith & Sons Cotton has always been proudly 100% American owned," the website states, adding that its proceeds are recycled back into the U.S. economy, "not sent overseas."

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include Olam's denial it has acquired Jess Smith & Sons Cotton LLC.