Analysis: Canada farms fear consolidation, not foreigners, in Viterra bid

Mon Mar 19, 2012 12:17am EDT
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By Rod Nickel

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - For most of the past year, western Canadian farmers have braced for the rush of competition that will follow the end of the Canadian Wheat Board's 69-year-long monopoly on grain marketing in August.

Now, they're preparing for the possibility of seeing less than expected.

The fertile region's biggest grain handler, Viterra, said on Thursday it had hired advisers and set a process to vet takeover interest, the first sign of a much-anticipated frenzy to take or build a position in the western Canadian wheat market as it opens to competition for the first time since World War Two.

But whether farmers will win or lose from the transaction depends heavily on who buys the former farm cooperative, which has a commanding 45 percent share of rural elevator storage - the backbone of the supply chain for getting crops from the world's No. 8 grain grower to global markets.

Unlike the cool Canadian response to some big deals involving foreign bidders, western Prairie farmers aren't vocally worried about whether Viterra retains the Maple Leaf stamp.

They're far more concerned with ensuring that the move toward a freer market isn't compromised in the final furlong.

"There's a fear on our side that an existing multinational like Cargill that's already in this country would buy them and take away a lot of competition" among handlers vying for farmers' grain, said Alberta farmer Lynn Jacobson, president of Wild Rose Agricultural Producers.

Swiss trader Glencore, a respected and sometimes feared name in global metal and oil markets, is teaming with Canadian farm retailer Agrium and No. 2 grain handler Richardson International Ltd on a bid that would break Viterra into several chunks, according to industry sources.   Continued...