May 31, 2019 / 7:05 PM / a year ago

Exclsuive: Fertilizer dealer Nutrien aims to triple U.S. farm loans, guided by ex-Walmart executive

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Canadian fertilizer dealer Nutrien Ltd is aiming to triple its lendings to U.S. farmers to $6 billion within five years, in a bid to drive up farm supply sales, its chief financial officer said.

Nutrien’s push to expand farm loans starting this year comes as low commodity prices have depressed U.S. farm incomes, leaving growers less money to spend on seed and fertilizer.

“We are trying to provide the fuel for retail to grow,” CFO Pedro Farah, a former Walmart Inc executive, told Reuters. “We know whoever buys with financing tends to buy a lot more. It increases the depth of the relationship (with farmers) and the stickiness.”

Nutrien has not previously disclosed its target for farm loans. It told a meeting of investors this week that it intends to expand its financial arm.

The Saskatchewan-based company’s current loans to U.S. farmers to buy supplies amount to $2 billion, or 8 percent of the U.S. farm input financing market, in which it competes with commercial banks, tractor-maker Deere & Co and rival farm suppliers such as CHS Inc.

Farah, a 58-year-old Brazilian by birth who joined Nutrien in February from Walmart, is leading the strategy, but adds that Nutrien was developing the idea before he arrived.

Expanding Nutrien’s lending to customers mirrors a broad expansion of financial services by retailers such as Walmart, eBay and, he said.

“All retailers are recognizing that financial services are a key component of the sales process. It’s something that, as a retailer, we’ve got to offer, especially in a market that’s probably underserved,” Farah said.

Nutrien is seeking the approval of credit rating agencies to raise its debt to equity ratio and lend more, starting this year, Farah said.

Nutrien’s share of U.S. farm retail sales is a market-leading 20 percent, and the company has said it aims to grow further through acquisitions of smaller sellers.

Asked why Nutrien would expand U.S. farm loans when some banks see them as too risky, Farah said the company’s longstanding relationships with farmers is a major difference.

“They don’t know growers as well as we do,” he said.

The company’s shares rose 0.2 percent in Toronto.

Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and David Gregorio

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