U.S. antitrust regulators yesterday cleared the way for Bayer’s $66 billion purchase of Monsanto—forcing a record $9 billion of divestitures before approving the deal. It was the “largest divestiture ever required by the United States,” trumpeted Makan Delrahim, who heads the U.S. Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. But it still marks a huge step toward consolidation of the agricultural services business.
The ruling brings Bayer closer to completing the third in a trinity of deals that will change the face of agriculture forever. Dow Chemical and DuPont merged in September, with plans to split into three units–one focusing on agriculture. And Canada’s Potash Corp. merged with Agrium to form a new company called Nutrien.
Critics say the deals will increase concentration and therefore costs for farmers—and they may well be right. The three new mega-companies will control more than 60% of the market for seed and pesticides.
But there is an inescapable logic in these combinations, as well. Agriculture has always been a business of vast uncertainties—uncontrollable sunlight and rainfall, as well as unpredictable pestilence and disease. The companies above use biology and chemistry—seeds, fertilizer and pesticides—to combat nature’s uncertainties. The rise of ubiquitous sensors, big data and machine learning provide an opportunity to revolutionize that business.
Think of it as Farming as a Service: real-time monitoring of crop and soil conditions, combined with weather data provided via Monsanto’s Climate Corp., will enable more sophisticated management of agricultural inputs—seed, fertilizer, pesticide—to reduce risk and increase output. If the world has any chance of feeding the 10 billion people who soon will occupy it, such techniques to manage the vicissitudes of agriculture are essential.
By the way, both Hugh Grant, CEO of Monsanto, and Erik Fyrwald, CEO of Syngenta, are members of Fortune’s CEO Initiative. We are still in search of a few more good CEOs to join the effort. You can find more information here.
More news below.
The U.S. has suddenly decided to go ahead with tariffs and sanctions against China, despite being in the middle of trade negotiations. Those talks, scheduled for this weekend, might now not go ahead. The Trump administration said Tuesday that it will hit Chinese imports with tariffs after all, and restrict Chinese access to sensitive U.S. tech. These measures were supposed to be on hold, so everyone is surprised, to say the least. Is it a negotiating ploy? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Wall Street Journal
Meanwhile, the European Union appears to have given up on winning a full carve-out from President Donald Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs. “Realistically, if the U.S. decides to refrain from applying duties I expect them nonetheless to want to impose some sort of cap on EU exports,” EU trade chief Cecilia Malmström warned members of the European Parliament yesterday. The EU’s temporary exemption from the tariffs will expire Friday. Financial Times
Kremlin critic Bill Browder, the American CEO of Hermitage Capital, was arrested in Spain this morning on a Russian warrant. Browder, who has been a driving force behind sanctions such as the Magnitsky Act, and who alleges corruption going all the way up to the highest echelons of the Russian system, faces years in jail if he ends up getting sent back to Russia. But not this time—Interpol denied having anything to do with Russia’s warrant, and the Spanish police released the financier. Fortune
Ousted WPP chief Martin Sorrell is already back in business. The ad guru’s S4 Capital vehicle is being bought by the investment firm Derriston Capital in a reverse takeover that will leave Sorrell in charge of Derriston, which is changing its name to S4. And guess what the company will do? “S4 Capital is a company that aims to build a multi-national communication services business focused on growth,” said Sorrell. Bloomberg
Around the Water Cooler
The Estonia-based Uber rival Taxify just got a big boost in the form of a $175 million investment from a group led by Daimler. The German automaker is already an investor in various ride-hailing firms, including Germany’s MyTaxi, France’s Chauffeur Privé, and the Dubai-headquartered Careem. Taxify’s existing investors include the Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing. Reuters
Another Tesla crash, and this time it was into a parked police SUV (which is a write-off as a result.) The car was in autopilot mode when it struck the cop car in Laguna Beach, California. The driver sustained minor injuries. Tesla’s take? Autopilot isn’t perfect, drivers are supposed to keep their hands on the wheel anyway, and the mode should only be engaged on highways with a center divider and clear lane markings. Fortune
The hit sitcom Roseanne has been abruptly scrapped after its star, the conservative actress Roseanne Barr, compared former Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett—who is black—to an ape. Here’s ABC president Channing Dungey: “Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show.” Barr apologized, but went on to retweet supporters who claimed she hadn’t said anything racist. CNBC
Puerto Rico Toll
How many people were killed by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year? The official death toll was 64, but new research shows the real figure was 4,645—more than 70 times as many as thought before. Why the discrepancy? The official stats were based on bodies that had been examined by a medical examiner, but Maria’s destruction meant that was simply impossible in most cases. Fortune