French buy WA grain assets

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian
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Louis Dreyfus has become the latest global agribusiness to grab a strategic share of grains industry infrastructure in WA, joining a recent spending spree by US-based Cargill and Bunge and China's Beidahuang Group.

The French conglomerate has agreed to purchase fertiliser company Ravensdown's operations in WA, including the lease over a discharge berth and infrastructure at Kwinana.

The lease with Fremantle Port Authority is understood to include land, a 90,000 tonne- capacity storage shed and a one-way discharge belt. LD would need to invest in major upgrades to export grain from the berth.

The deal comes after recent comments by Transport Minister Troy Buswell raised speculation about Kwinana Bulk Terminal assets being sold off by the cash-strapped State Government.

LD did not buy capacity at the recent auction for shipping slots at CBH terminals and was one of the companies linked to construction of a grain terminal as part of the stalled plan to develop a private port at James Point near Cockburn.

Ravensdown owns non-portside sheds and land at Geraldton, Albany and Esperance. The sheds have a combined storage capacity of about 90,000t and, in the case of Geraldton and Albany, there is room to expand or build grain silos on site.

The deal provides LD with a valuable point of contact with WA grain growers who are shareholders in Ravensdown, a NZ-based co-operative which acquired the United Farmers Co-operative in WA in 2008. The sale price has not been revealed but some interested parties baulked at a figure of $25 million.

LD Commodities Australia chief executive Robert Green was in Perth yesterday but did not return calls from _WestBusiness. _

"The opportunity to acquire the Ravensdown assets in WA fits well with our growth strategy in Asia," he said in a statement.

Cargill recently paid a higher-than-expected $420 million for Australia's biggest malting company Joe White, which has a huge plant in Forrestfield.

Bunge is investing $40 million at Bunbury Port and companies linked to Beidahuang have spent $150 million on farms and a lease over assets at Albany Port.

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