Monsanto steps up financial stake in InterGrain

Jo FulwoodCountryman

Monsanto has stepped up its financial interest in WA-based plant breeding company InterGrain.

The United States chemical giant last week increased its stakeholding in InterGrain from 19.9 per cent to 26 per cent.

At a cost of $4.5 million, Monsanto is now the second largest shareholder in the business, behind the WA State Government, which holds a 48.7 per cent stake.

GRDC is the third largest stakeholder with 25.3 per cent.

InterGrain is the privatised wheat breeding arm of the Department of Agriculture and Food, with Monsanto first buying into the company in 2010 at a cost of $10.5 million.

As part of the deal, Monsanto managing director Daniel Kruithoff will now sit on the board of InterGrain.

Mr Kruithoff said Monsanto had no plans at this stage to further increase its shareholding in InterGrain.

"Any decisions to change equity levels in the future will be made by the three shareholders," he said.

InterGrain chairman Dale Baker said the recent deal with Monsanto was initially announced three years ago, but the company had to meet certain milestones before Monsanto agreed to the further investment.

"The money is going to be used for plant breeding programs, and for the ongoing financing of the company," he said.

"All the money will be ploughed back into producing better varieties for growers."

Mr Baker said InterGrain had no plans to invest in genetically modified wheat breeding at this point.

"We are conventional wheat breeders at the moment, but once GM wheat is approved by the deregulated market, we'll be there, but no trials have been planned," he said.

Agriculture Minister Ken Baston said the investment by Monsanto was capital needed in the State.

"I have concern for our farmers who are in trouble due to dry conditions and frost," he said.

"If we can produce a plant, such as a wheat crop, that can sustain those conditions then we are in front. If Monsanto, as part of InterGrain, can achieve that, then I'm all for it."

However, the minister said these were long-term investments.

He said GM wheat with the described traits were still in the order of a decade away, but it was important for State Government, industry and private companies to invest in these technologies.

It's a joke that the Government can sell off our publicly funded intellectual property for pocket money. The selling of generations of plant breeding could only happen at a government level. I wouldn't want to see Monsanto's stake in InterGrain increase any further.

_Graham Harding, Williams grower _

This was part of the initial agreement. But I wouldn't like to see Monsanto with 50 per cent.

_Kim Simpson, WAFarmers grains president _

It's a commercial agreement between InterGrain and Monsanto. Investment in biotechnology has brought much needed benefits to Australian agriculture and we hope these arrangements continue into the future.

_John Snooke, PGA Western Grain Growers chairman _

Monsanto brings a fair amount of knowledge and experience to the table. I don't see it as a negative.

_Mark Appleyard, Northern Gully grower _

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