In bid for Syngenta, Monsanto woos U.S. farmer support

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 17, 2015 5:59 PM

By Carey Gillam

(Reuters) - As Monsanto Co struggles to convince rival Syngenta AG to discuss a potential merger, the seed and agrochemical giant is also wooing U.S. farmers, aiming to ease concerns about the proposed tie-up that could prompt regulatory challenges.

Company executives have been criss-crossing the U.S. heartland, meeting with soybean and corn growers and a range of powerful farm lobby organizations to seek their support, company and farm officials say. And the company has launched a website promoting the benefits of the proposed $45 billion acquisition of Syngenta, which the Swiss company has thus far rebuffed.

Monsanto leaders have also been making appearances on national and regional broadcasts to make their case that combining two of the world's largest agricultural companies will help - not hurt - their customers.

The efforts follow weeks of Monsanto executive meetings with Syngenta shareholders.

It's an all-out approach that analysts and marketing experts say is unusual in a corporate acquisition effort, and one that requires Monsanto to walk a fine line.

"If they soothe the worries of the marketplace that helps a lot," said William Carner, a Westminster College business professor and marketing expert.

"They've got to show Syngenta how profitable this will be. At the same time they have to tell the markets they aren't going to gouge them. It's a nice little tightrope they've got themselves on," Carner said.

Among those Monsanto has been lobbying is the American Farm Bureau Federation, which calls itself the "voice of agriculture."

The group has no formal position on the proposal. But Dale Moore, who oversees its public policy arm, said there are questions about how prices and product innovation could be impacted.

Monsanto is the world's largest seed company, while Syngenta is a global leader in farm chemicals.

"One question would be if this is going to cause a contraction in new R&D or leverage it. We love competition because competition usually means there is... choice," Moore said.

Edward Jones analyst Matt Arnold said Monsanto's push could help lower regulatory antitrust hurdles.

"If the customer gets on board... that would put less pressure on regulators to scrutinize the deal or block it," Arnold said.

Monsanto Chairman Hugh Grant said Friday he is frustrated with Syngenta's refusal to come to the bargaining table.

"They need to get real and see if we can get this over the line," Grant said in a televised appearance on CNBC.

(Reporting By Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing by Christian Plumb)