Monsanto’s message to the agricultural industry, including farmers and ag retailers, is that its acquisition of Syngenta would lead to “accelerated innovation.” Monsanto would be in a position to have faster research and development, and that would put pressure on other crop protection and seed companies to speed up their innovation, too, according to Scott Partridge, vice president of strategy for Monsanto.
In a one-on-one interview with Partridge, he said, if a transaction with Syngenta can be completed, “We think this is going to give us the ability to accelerate innovation by combining two R&D programs, and at the same time, when we put these companies together, we are making a commitment that if anything overlaps—seed, traits or chemistries that we have in our hands and overlaps with what they have, we will divest those assets from our purchase of them.”
As has been widely reported, Partridge confirmed that Syngenta’s seed business would be the first divestiture, and he said the only principal chemistry divestiture apparent at this time is Syngenta’s Touchdown, its glyphosate brand product.
Partridge said Monsanto will not suggest cherry picking some of the Syngenta seed businesses that are not in Monsanto’s portfolio. “We could say we don’t have a barley business so let’s keep the barley, and we don’t sell flowers, so let’s keep the flower business. We are not going to do that,” he said.
“And by doing that, we believe that the competition regulators are going to view this as more of a clean transaction since we are not going to grow market share in anything that we currently have in our hands,” he added.
Partridge said Monsanto has not been in a place to solicit offers for Syngenta seed business and hasn’t contacted possible seed segment buyers, but the phone has been ringing from companies that want to be on the list of interested buyers.
Monsanto consistently professes how it has stepped outside the seed business with the acquisition of ClimateCorp and developed new “data science and mining of data information” for the benefit of famers to help them make better crop production decisions.
“What this has done is cause our competitors to step up their game and also enter those new areas. So, we believe by combining the first class, world class business Syngenta has in crop protection with their robust R&D program supporting it, and combining our seeds and traits R&D program along with data science, we’ll create new stuff. We think we will have the ability to create new products, new innovations, new inventions faster,” Partridge said.
The combination of the two companies could eventually provide ag retailers in the U.S. with new innovative products, but adding Syngenta’s crop protection portfolio could also give the Monsanto offerings more inroads into production agriculture markets around the world. Monsanto wants to have wider distribution and acceptance of biotech seed using the Syngenta distribution, marketing success.
Monsanto is saying that it can provide the most sophisticated farming inputs for the U.S. and some other markets, but also less innovative products for less sophisticated, small landholders.
“Ninety percent of the [world’s] farmers don’t use biotech, but they need seed, and most of them need some form of crop protection. So, what this [acquisition] does is give us the ability to reach many, many more farmers in places where we don’t have a footprint. It gives us acceleration into Eastern Europe. It gives us the ability in Sub-Saharan Africa to appear in front of a lot of farmers who are farming to feed their families—subsistence farmers,” Partridge explained.
“For every farmer that is using the most advanced techniques, there is a woman somewhere in central Africa trying to feed her kids, and she needs better corn seed and needs a safer chemical to control fungus or rot. And we want to do that,” he added.
Combining Monsanto and Syngenta definitely isn’t an anti-competitive transaction, according to Monsanto, partly because it would create a corporation that is still smaller than BASF and Bayer.
Monsanto says its management has talked to farmers and channel distribution representatives in the U.S. about the possible transaction, and the reaction in general has not been negative. Once they hear the company’s explanation of what the combined company might provide farmers and the channel, they aren’t complaining, but they indicate they will wait and see if Monsanto does right by them. If the company doesn’t, they’ll show their disapproval by walking away from doing business with the new combo corporation, Partridge acknowledged.
Monsanto wants to do more talking with Syngenta’s board of directors to advance the acquisition transaction, but the board has refused to talk to Monsanto or even its shareholders.
“They have cancelled meetings with their investor shareholders, which is unprecedented, and they are not talking to us at present,” said Partridge.
“We made a proposal to them before they leaked our offer with a 43 percent premium on the unaffected [pre-announcement stock] price. You know it [stock] has been trading around 400 Swiss francs up from 300 before they put this all out to the press,” the Monsanto vice-president said. “They have got an important choice to make and that is to engage us. We are not going to bid against ourselves at this point; they need to come to the table.”
Monsanto claims it has heard from some Syngenta shareholders who are trying to encourage the Syngenta board and management to discuss a transaction. The shareholder interest is because Syngenta has been underperforming compared to Monsanto.
Since July of 2011, the Syngenta stock has increased 10 percent in value, but during the same period Monsanto’s stock has increased 57 percent. Partridge said many Syngenta stockholders don’t want continued 10 percent value increases when there is the possibility for a greater return with the formation of a new corporation.
Partridge ended by saying, “We think there is a compelling offer out there; we think they ought to engage with us, and we frankly think we should have these discussions in private for a while to see whether this combination will work and what it will do for farmers.”