European malting giant to buy Cargill Malt business

Cargill’s Prairie Malt plant in western Saskatchewan is destined for new European ownership under a deal publicly proposed Thursday.

The Boortmalt Group, the malting arm of French agricultural co-operative Axereal, has announced its “intention to enter into an agreement” to buy Cargill Malt from the U.S. agrifood firm for an undisclosed sum.

Boortmalt, which bills itself as Europe’s second largest malt producer and No. 5 worldwide, has been an Axereal subsidairy since 2004 and today operates malting plants in France, Belgium, Hungary and Croatia, as well as in Ireland, England and Scotland, to which it expanded in 2010.

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A player in the malting business since 1979, Minneapolis-based, privately-held Cargill today has malting facilities in Australia, Germany, Belgium, France, Russia, Argentina, the Netherlands and Spain as well as Canada and the U.S.

Based at Biggar, about 90 km west of Saskatoon, Prairie Malt was set up in 1974 as Henninger Malting, then was operated from 1977 to 1989 by the provincial government, which in turn sold it to a joint venture of U.S.-based Schreier Malting and Saskatchewan Wheat Pool (now part of Viterra).

Cargill bought a majority stake of Prairie Malt in 1998 when it took over Schreier, and bought full control of the Biggar operation in 2013. The plant has capacity to handle about 220,000 tonnes of malting barley per year.

Cargill’s U.S. malting operations, meanwhile, are based at the former Schreier plant at Sheboygan, Wisconsin, on Lake Michigan about 80 km north of Milwaukee.

Cargill, on its site, describes “some of the best barley in the world” as being grown within a 100-km radius of the Biggar plant, which it said produces and supplies “high-quality Canadian malt for domestic and international beer brewing customers.”

In 2011, however, it laid off half of Prairie Malt’s staff following the loss of a supply agreement with “a major customer.”

Cargill Malt had expanded its operations elsewhere in recent years, setting up in Russia in 2005, starting two plants in Argentina in 2006 and 2009 and buying Australia’s Joe White Maltings from Viterra in 2013.

However, Cargill in 2015 began restructuring its operations in the wake of the latest commodities slump, stepping out of some businesses and selling others such as its U.S. ag retail arm in 2016 and its Ontario grain and ag input business this year.

In September this year Cargill was reported to be seeking buyers specifically for the malting business. The following month it permanently closed its malt plant at Spiritwood, N.D., about 140 km west of Fargo and 260 km south of the Manitoba border.

A Cargill spokesperson said Thursday the deal with Boortmalt will involve only Cargill’s active malting facilities and the Spiritwood plant is not included.

Cargill has owned the Spiritwood facility since 1991, when it bought majority control of Milwaukee-based Ladish Malt. –– Glacier FarmMedia Network

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