Vilsack: Monsanto CEO 'Surprised' at Bayer's Public Offer

Monsanto Co. has yet to respond to Bayer AG’s $62 billion takeover offer. But according to a senior U.S. government official, Monsanto’s chief executive officer is surprised by the recent turn of events

"I talked to Hugh Grant today and at the end of our conversation he pointed out that Bayer had made this offer and then made it public," U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said. Grant thought it was "surprising for a German company to be as open with ‘here’s what we are offering and this is why we’re offering it.’"

To be sure, it was Monsanto that first confirmed last week Bayer had made a proposal, after Bloomberg News reported earlier that the German company was weighing an offer. Leverkusen-based Bayer said Monday it’s willing to pay $122 a share in cash for St. Louis-based Monsanto to create the world’s biggest seller of seeds and farm chemicals.

Monsanto didn’t respond to a request for comment about the conversation between Vilsack and Grant.

Vilsack also played down concerns about the proposed takeover reducing competition in the agricultural industry. The Bayer-Monsanto deal is one of three big proposed combinations, along with the planned merger of DuPont Co. and Dow Chemical Co. and the proposed takeover of Syngenta AG by China National Chemical Corp.

Farmer Choice

"There are going to be fewer big companies but that doesn’t mean there will be fewer smaller companies," Vilsack said Monday in an interview in his U.S. Department of Agriculture office in Washington. “I don’t think we’re necessarily going to see the end of innovation and entrepreneurship.”

U.S. lawmakers including Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa have called for the USDA to be involved in evaluating government approvals of the takeovers, due to concerns that farmers may face fewer choices and higher prices should the number of companies offering seeds and crop chemicals decrease. 

Vilsack said he can’t comment on the USDA’s role in any approval, adding that while he wants to be sure that regulatory systems are up to speed on changes in global agriculture, concerns that behemoth companies may restrict farmer choices on what chemicals and seeds they can buy may be overblown, he said.

“You are going to continue to see the growth of smaller, entrepreneurial, innovative companies in this space because there’s just so much energy in agriculture,” he said.

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