Champions make play for CBH

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

A company formed by two former CBH directors and some of WA’s biggest farmers is gathering support for a plan to corporatise the co-operative with financial backing from GrainCorp and others.

The plan, formed over the past year, values Australia’s biggest farming co-operative at about $3 billion and promises to deliver grain growers a cash windfall and shares in a new corporate entity controlling storage and handling in WA.

It is one of the options in the mix for Australian Grains Champion, a private company with a list of shareholders dominated by WA grain growers.

GrainCorp has been in talks about providing financial backing for the new entity and becoming a major stakeholder.

Another potential backer is the sovereign wealth fund set up by the Federal Government to invest billions of dollars for future generations of Australians. The Future Fund’s support remains in question after talks with AGC representatives.

Under the CBH constitution, any offer to buy or corporatise the storage and handling operations would be put to a vote and needs the support of 75 per cent of about 4200 grower members.

Details of the AGC plans have leaked out in the Wheatbelt and led to speculation that in return for their nominal $2 holding in CBH, a non-distributing co-operative, growers could be offered a minimum payment of up to $500,000 in addition to shares in the corporate entity.

Former CBH deputy chairman Clancy Michael, former CBH board member Samantha Tough and Tammin farmer Brad Jones are ACG directors. WA Regional Development Trust chairwoman Sue Middleton is company secretary.

Another ACG shareholder is former director John Corbett, who is on the board of Qatar Investment Authority-owned Hassad Australia.

AGC shareholders include the Cullen, Nixon, Shields, Hyde and Messina families.

AGC came close to presenting a proposal to the CBH board late last year and also considered running a ticket in the latest election for grower directors.

Mr Michael said CBH needed timely decisions in key areas to return real value to growers.

“AGC was formed by a group of WA growers to look at the future of CBH following concerns on the lack of a visible strategic direction, the lack of a critical and affordable network strategy and the lack of a strategy to deal with the growing competitive threat,” he said.

“AGC was looking to share a concept with the CBH board in 2015 but this was not possible. It was a positive concept designed to meet the needs of growers and the industry into the future. Who knows what the new year will bring? Any proposal that AGC develops would have the interests of growers at heart.”

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