The past year has brought a whirlwind of big ag deals as companies in the seed, machinery and insurance sectors and more consolidate in search of more market share and greater efficiencies.
But while that may be good news for shareholders, such deals can make farmers nervous. They worry about higher prices, fewer choices and less innovation as big companies get bigger.
“There is the potential that consolidation could lead to fewer options and less competition,” says Garrett Stoerger, partner at Verdant Partners in Champaign, Ill. “To farmers, those are telltale signs for price increases, which is a perception that will be hard for companies to overcome.”
He, like others, expects the deal-making in ag to continue into the new year.
“The blockbuster deals (that occurred) in 2015 will bring repercussions and create reasons for other companies to look at their strategic options,” Stoerger says. “The unfortunate downside to synergy-based mergers is loss of jobs, and thus the biggest impacts will likely be on the employees.”
Here are Stoerger’s thoughts on some of the biggest ag deals of 2015 and what they might mean for farmers going forward:
Dow and DuPont. When/if this $131 billion merger closes, executives intend to split the new entity into three independent companies, including an ag division with an estimated $19 billion in combined revenue in 2014. That’s $3 billion more than Monsanto, the closest competitor.
“The largest branded market share DowDuPont will have is in seed corn at somewhere between 39% and 41% in the U.S.,” Stoerger says. “For those worried that’s too big, it actually falls short of where Pioneer’s seed corn market share was in the 1990s alone.”
Federal regulators will review the transaction for antitrust concerns. Will it be approved? It seems possible, given the relatively limited product overlap between Dow and DuPont’s offerings.
“As far as farmers are affected, I think there will still be ample choices when you consider all the cross-licensing of technologies in the marketplace,” Stoerger says. “In the short term, I don’t foresee significant price increases likely because of the depressed commodity prices.”
John Deere and Precision Planting. This deal, announced in November and expected to be finalized in the first quarter of 2016, shows the growing importance of precision ag.
“This demonstrates Deere’s desire to be on the cutting edge – this time by buying someone else’s technology,” Stoerger says. “A big question is will John Deere continue to offer Precision Planting products to other machinery manufacturers or will it be exclusive through John Deere?”
He thinks the deal could end up affecting more than just Deere customers.
“Farmers are very brand-loyal, especially in equipment,” Stoerger says. “Even if John Deere is the only place to access Precision Planting technology, I don’t see that changing a Case New Holland loyalist. Instead, I likely see it pushing Case New Holland to deliver new, competitive technology.”
RCIS and Zurich Insurance Group. After shopping its crop insurance business since this summer, Wells Fargo finally inked a deal in December to sell RCIS to Zurich Insurance Group for as much as $1.05 billion.
“The crop insurance market is a very lucrative place to do business,” Stoerger says. “These companies coming together indicate Zurich’s desire to move into this space and diversify.”
Land O’ Lakes and United Suppliers. Wholesale suppliers United Suppliers, Inc. joined Land O’Lakes, Inc.’s crop inputs business as of October 2015. The first step of the merger was to combine the two seed and crop protection businesses under Winfield. Next the group will merge the crop nutrient business.
This merger was about wholesale suppliers, which don’t work directly with the farmer, and therefore it may not be as impactful to the farmer as some of the other mergers, Stoerger says. “This could provide additional downstream value to owners.”
What’s next for Syngenta? In 2015, Swiss seed company Syngenta AG was one hot property for would-be acquirers, including Monsanto and most recently, ChemChina. While it appears Syngenta will close out the year without a deal, Chairman Michel Demare has said the company remains in talks regarding a possible merger or acquisition.
Such ongoing discussions don’t surprise Stoerger. “I think it’s largely evolutionary in terms of what we’ve seen in the last twenty years,” he says. “It communicates the market is continually looking for efficiency.”