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Agrium mulling 'whole bunch' of bid targets in Brazil

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Agrium revealed it may be poised to buy into Brazil's struggling farm retail sector, and fuel a global agriculture sector deal drive it said was being marketed by "a lot of activity and discussion".

Chuck Magro, chief executive at the Canada-based potash-to-farm supplies group, said that the company was "active on the merger and acquisition front now in Brazil.

"We're looking at a whole bunch of opportunities," he told investors, adding that the group had no shortage of options for beefing up in a Brazilian farm retail sector struggling with the depreciation of the real, which boosts the value of dollar denominated imported inputs.

High inventories on farms, which stocked up in expectation of the real's decline, have also been blamed for weak ag retail sales.

According to fertilizer industry group Anda, for instance, nutrients delivered to Brazilian farmers fell by 5.9%, by volume, in the first nine months of 2015 amid rising prices, provoking an 11.3% drop in imports.

In Mato Grosso, the top soybean producing state, farmers' costs for the 2015-16 harvest in the oilseed are up by 18.3%, led by a 31% jump in costs of agrichemicals, which are also largely imported.

Spoilt for choice

"I have to tell you that, given the difficult conditions right now, there are an awful lot of facilities for sale," Mr Magro said, adding that no resolution to the market downturn looked on the horizon.

"We are being very selective, we're taking our time.

"We don't think that the challenges that you're seeing in Brazil today are going to correct themselves any time soon.

"And we want to make sure that we get the right opportunity at the right price."

'A lot of activity'

An acquisition would allow Agrium to beef up in a country in which it currency has little presence, compared with an extensive retail network in Argentina.

"Our goal is still… to grow specifically our retail presence in Brazil," Mr Magro said.

And it come would fuel an agriculture sector merger spree he saw extending down to farm level.

"A lot of activity and discussion, I think, at least being talked about," he said, terming this trend "very normal, very expected… at this point in the cycle", when many operators are feeling strains emanating from broadly lower agricultural commodity prices.

'Normal and necessary'

"It all starts with what's happening on the farm. And farmers are consolidating," he said, adding that this trend was "going to accelerate as land values and land rents decline".

Among farm retailers, there were "a lot that are starting to consolidate", he said, flagging Australian, South American and Canadian markets.

And it was "starting to happen with producers, both fertilizer producers and crop chem and seed producers," a process which was "normal and necessary".

Syngenta-DuPont rumours

The comments come amid fresh speculation that Syngenta, which irked many investors by freezing out an approach from rival Monsanto, may be mulling a tie-up with DuPont, the owner of the Pioneer seeds business.

Syngenta shares stood 3.6% higher at SFr349.90 in midday deals.

Indeed, the agrichemical and seeds industry has been particularly awash with deal rumours.

Andrew Liveris, the chief executive of Dow Chemical, said last month that "everyone is talking to everyone".


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