New York investors agree to buy large Florida farming company

MIAMI Fri Oct 18, 2013 6:49pm EDT

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MIAMI (Reuters) - A majority interest in one of the largest private landowners in Florida, agribusiness company Alico Inc (ALCO.O), is being sold for $138 million to a group of New York private investors.

Based in Fort Myers, Alico manages about 130,000 acres in central and south Florida and is a leading citrus grower with 11,000 acres under production, as well as sugar cane, and cattle ranching.

Under the deal announced on Friday, 734 Agriculture, a private investment company owned and controlled by Remy W. Trafelet and George R. Brokaw, in partnership with Arlon Group, a global food and agriculture investment firm founded by Continental Grain Company, will acquire about 50.5 percent of Alico's outstanding voting stock from Atlantic Blue Group, a family owned holding company, the companies announced in a joint press release.

The all cash transaction values the majority stake in Alico at $37 per share, and is due to close in the next 30 to 45 days.

Alico stock closed at $38.43 on Friday, down almost 11 per cent.

The other 48.5 percent of stock is held by a mix of mutual funds and private equity groups.

Atlantic Blue Group is part of the estate of the late citrus baron Ben Hill Griffin Jr. who's heirs include former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, famous for presiding over the notorious November 2000 election recount.

The family's decision to sell Atlantic Blue was made for tax reasons, according to Ray Rodriguez, the chairman of Alico's board, told Reuters.

The company's focus will remain farming and the new CEO will be Clay Wilson an experienced Florida citrus grower.

"As far as I know the vision of the new investors is very much the same as Alico has had. I don't foresee any change," said Rodriguez.

(Reporting By David Adams; Editing by Carol Bishopric)

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