Pool rebrands as “Viterra”

Canada’s four Prairie grain pools have made their marriage official, trading in their Saskatchewan Wheat Pool and Agricore United monikers for a new brand, Viterra.

Pronounced “VY-terra,” a word meant to symbolize “life from the land,” the name was officially unveiled today at the rebranded, merged company’s Buffalo Plains high-throughput grain terminal near Regina.

“We now have the scale and scope to take on projects that others cannot,” said Mayo Schmidt, former Pool CEO and now chief executive of the new firm, in a release. “Our size allows us to operate more efficiently, leverage resources and technologies, and provide Viterra and out customers with tremendous competitive advantages.”

The new firm will have gross annual revenues of over $4 billion, with over 100 grain handling facilities, port terminals in British Columbia and Ontario and 276 retail sites for farm inputs across the Prairies. Its combined holdings include full ownership of fertilizer distributor Western Co-operative Fertilizers, oat miller Can-Oat Milling and feed manufacturer Livestock Services, which operates mills on the Prairies as well as in Texas and New Mexico.

Today’s unveiling — which made its way into the news run a day early through a search by newspaper reporters of recent trademark applications — closes the book on the Prairie co-operative pools’ chapter in Canadian grain handling history.

Saskatchewan Wheat Pool flew solo through its 84-year history, moving from a farmers’ co-operative to a publicly traded model in 1996 and using the funds to finance massive expansion — which led to the company’s near-bankruptcy and financial restructuring in 2003. United Grain Growers, which went public in 1993, fended off a 1997 hostile takeover bid by Manitoba Pool Elevators and Alberta Pool, which in 1998 merged as Agricore. UGG then took over Agricore in 2001, forming the publicly-traded Agricore United.

Schmidt, in his release, acknowledged the four heritage companies, saying “It was on Prairie fields like this that farmers laid the foundation for the companies that would shape Canada’s agri-business industry” and adding that “today, we stand on the shoulders of giants.”

SaskPool launched its takeover bid for AU in late 2006, meeting resistance at first as AU turned to Winnipeg grain handler James Richardson International (JRI) and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Fund as “white knights.” SaskPool increased its offer and struck deals with JRI and, later, the Canadian arm of Cargill to sell them several AU elevators and other facilities, which in turn gave its proposed merger the blessing of federal antitrust regulators. AU in May conceded the Pool’s offer to be the superior bid.

The Pool said it plans to change its TSX stock ticker symbol in the near future to reflect the Viterra name. It also announced last month that it would extend its fiscal year-end from July 31 to October 31, making 2007 a 15-month reporting year, to better align its reporting period with the grain handling business cycle. AU had previously run on an October 31 year-end.

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