Graincorp grows in foreign hands

With Australia's largest grain handler, Graincorp, set to drop into American hands, it would be easy to despair over the future of the local agricultural industry.

But the $3 billion takeover of Graincorp by US food giant Archer Daniels Midland gives the Australian operation new channels to markets for its grain.

And it also ends a long-standing uncertainty over when, rather than if, Grainrcorp would be absorbed into a global player.

Graincorp has become the last major agriculture play to fall into foreign hands - following ABB Grain's purchase by Canada's Viterra in 2009, and AWB, which was split between US giant Cargill and Canada's Agrium.

Announcing his recommendation that shareholders accept ADM's $13.20 a share bid for the 80 per cent of Graincorp it does not already own, chairman Don Taylor emphasised the company could have survived as a stand-alone proposition.

"While the board has great confidence in the management team's ability to improve shareholder returns over the long term, it believes the proposed offer is sufficiently compelling for us to recommend it to shareholders," Mr Taylor said.

However Graincorp, value $3 billion, is part of a global marketplace dominated by behemoths such as ADM, with a market capitalisation of $US22 billion and the privately held Cargill, estimated to be worth up to $US55 billion.

Phillip Capital agribusiness analyst Paul Jensz said Graincorp earns up to 15 per cent of its income from marketing grain domestically and overseas.

In a global marketplace, competitors like Cargill have better access to funding and stronger balance sheets to support the costly establishment of port and handling infrastructure in new markets.

"Graincorp can't compete at that sort of level," Mr Jensz said.

"You need either a joint venture or some sort of takeover.

Another analyst said Graincorp could have grown as a business, particularly as the company was still growing its grain exports, but its offshore options would be limited without significant investment in infrastructure.

"It's got a good outlook for growth. But in terms of who can leverage the asset base, most it's an international grain trader."

The analyst said Graincorp's sale is not likely to result in major increases in grain production for farmers but it does open up new, regional markets for their produce.

It has been, the analyst said, "a sitting duck" for takeover ever since Australia's wheat market was deregulated in 2008.

National Farmers' Federation president Duncan Fraser had not yet seen the details of the Graincorp deal and was cautious in his response.

"We welcome foreign investment where it is needed," Mr Fraser said.

Of greater concern for farmers than foreign investment is transparency of ownership, Mr Fraser said, an issue which led to the federal government to announce a register of foreign-owned farmland in 2012.

"A bigger issue is the purchase of farmland by foreign-owned mining companies," he said.

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