By Precision Farming Dealer Staff

After a year and a half of trying to get the deal to sell Precision Planting to Deere & Co. done, on May 1, Monsanto threw in the towel and said that it was terminating the agreement. The acquisition, which was announced in November 2015, was opposed by the U.S. Department of Justice based on complaint from a competing manufacturer of farm machinery in August.

As a result, the closing had been delayed by the DOJ’s concern with the transaction to preserve competition in the market for high speed precision planting systems in the U.S. In all likelihood, other, possibly larger, issues also played into Monsanto’s decision.

Deere and Monsanto issued separate press releases announcing the cancellation on May 1. Deere said it was “deeply disappointed” that the agreement fell through.

The company said, “Two agreements related to Deere’s purchase of Precision Planting will also be terminated, including the digital collaboration agreement between Deere and The Climate Corp., a division of Monsanto. Also ending is an agreement that would have allowed Ag Leader to expand access to and distribution of certain Precision Planting products and technologies.”

According to the release issued by The Climate Corp., a subsidiary of Monsanto, “The Climate Corp. made the strategic decision nearly 18 months ago to focus its business exclusively on its digital agriculture platform and this strategy has not changed.”

The press release went on to say, “The company intends to sell the Precision Planting equipment business and has spoken with several third parties that have expressed interest in purchasing it.”

Mounting DOJ Hurdles

It appears that attorneys for Monsanto and Deere weren’t getting a lot of traction in the case to justify the acquisition.

According to a April 26 report in Law360, the companies’ attorneys were not allowed to get the names of the people that the DOJ expert interviewed as part of the suit to block Deere’s acquisition of Precision Planting from Monsanto. The U.S. district judge said he wouldn’t force the DOJ’s expert witness to turn over notes she took during interviews with growers and equipment dealers in preparation for the trial, which was set for June 5, 2017. Government attorneys argued the notes weren’t pertinent to the report.

The companies said they only wanted the names of the people interviewed so they could verify what she said they told her, not her actual notes. “If the names were all you needed, you should’ve flagged that from the beginning,” the judge said. “It’s an untimely request.”

The Bayer-Monsanto Deal

Another factor that may have also contributed to Monsanto’s decision to terminate the sale of Precision Planting is the fact that it’s also busy working to complete Bayer’s acquisition of the company, which is the “bigger fish” compared to the sale of Precision Planting. It’s quite possible that Monsanto no longer wanted to be fighting with the DOJ on two fronts, especially as the ag business has been in the doldrums for more than 3 years.

Another thing that probably played a role in the decision is how Bayer views what needs to be done with Monsanto when the acquisition is finally approved. According to a Reuters report, on April 28, Bayer’s CEO, Werner Baumann told shareholders at the company’s annual general meeting that he will face an uphill battle to improve Monsanto’s reputation. “Monsanto’s image does of course represent a major challenge for us, and it’s not an aspect I wish to play down," he said.

“Yet we are facing this challenge with all those qualities that have made us what we are today: openness, expertise and responsibility," Baumann added.

The Monsanto name has been linked to a number of controversial products, including Agent Orange, PCBs and glyphosate. Its leadership in the development of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) also has been a source of criticism, especially in Europe, where there is strong opposition to genetically modified products.

Bayer and Monsanto plan to wrap up the $66 billion transaction by the end of 2017. As part of this, Bayer aims to file for European antitrust approval during the second quarter, according to the Reuters report.

Ag Leader Response

In response to the news, Al Myers, president and founder of Ag Leader said in a press release, “This announcement does not change Ag Leader’s commitment to bring innovative planting technology to the precision agriculture market … Our innovative new products have led to substantial growth in 2017, and we are driven by the vision and plans in place to continue that growth for our company, dealers and customers.”

Dealer Reaction

Case IH dealers are breathing a sigh of relief. The outcome may also motivate customers who were delaying planter upgrades or purchases to move forward, says  Heather Hardy, precision ag coordinator for H&R Agri-Power, a 14-store Case IH dealer based in Kentucky.

“For customers hoping to see a little more certainty in the market, we might see them pull the trigger on a planter upgrade through a Case IH or independent Precision Planting dealer,” she says. “I think we’ll see people who had maybe held up on some of those initial quotes act on them.”

As a Case IH dealer, Leo Johnson, principal of Johnson Tractor, was happy to hear the news. “The obvious winners today are the independent Precision Planting dealers and the Case IH dealers trying to market the 2150 planters with Precision Planting components,” he says. “The obvious losers are John Deere and the dealers that had their hopes high on marketing these products.”

Phil Moskal, integrated solutions manager at Mid-State Equipment, a Deere dealer that also carries Ag Leader, says while he’s disappointed the deal won’t be going through, to date the dealership had only preliminary discussions about the business impacts had it gone through.

“It was going to be a nice complement to our planter retrofitting business,” Moskal says. “Not all customers want the latest and greatest, so being able to add some of that newer technology would be a benefit.”       

Moskal does not anticipate the outcome to have any significant impact on their customers’ purchasing decisions, but he does expect another buyer will emerge for Precision Planting.

“I would anticipate that in the next 3 weeks to 9 months, there will be another announcement about a sale,” he says. 

Data Element

While dealers seem to expect the eventual sale of Precision Planting, it will likely only be the hardware side of the business.

Steve Cubbage, owner of Record Harvest, a precision farming dealership in Nevada, Mo., suggests that if and when Monsanto sells the company, it will likely retain the data collecting component. He notes that it’s interesting to see Precision Planting valued at $190 million, when Monsanto had purchased the company in 2012 for $250 million.

“Where did that $60 million go?,” Cubbage says. “I suspect that is where the value of the data access is and it’s not something Monsanto will want to sell. I would guess that whoever they sell the hardware business to, Monsanto will still want access to the data flowing though it. That could be an interesting negotiating tool going forward.”

Stay tuned for more updates and insight from Precision Farming Dealer and Farm Equipment Magazine