Case | HBS Case Collection | December 2009 (Revised March 2013)

Woolf Farming and Processing

by David E. Bell, Laura Winig and Mary Louise Shelman


Woolf Farming Company, a privately owned family farming business in California's Central Valley, found its business threatened by a lack of water, brought on by a combination of drought, poor quality well water and unavailability of surface water due to federally imposed pumping restrictions. Woolf had been farming crops for more than 30 years, but this was the first time they suffered a water shortage so severe that crops had to be abandoned in the field. Even if there was short-term relief in the form of an increased allocation of water from the government, Woolf was concerned about water reliability and the need for additional infrastructure to provide long term water security to the region. If convinced that the water problem would be resolved, then Woolf should move quickly to purchase more land which was currently available at distressed prices. Yet some board members questioned the logic of additional investment in the region whose resources were so uncertain and wondered whether it was more prudent to pursue growth elsewhere. At the same time, some of Woolf's owners began to believe that more of the company's resources should be prioritized for dividends and other distributions as opposed to purely growth. What, if anything, could Woolf and other farmers do to influence the outcome?

Keywords: Family Business; Resource Allocation; Quality; Business and Government Relations; Decision Choices and Conditions; Infrastructure; Investment; Growth and Development Strategy; Weather and Climate Change; Agriculture and Agribusiness Industry; California;


Bell, David E., Laura Winig, and Mary Louise Shelman. "Woolf Farming and Processing." Harvard Business School Case 510-033, December 2009. (Revised March 2013.)