* Mill merger was announced more than a year ago
* Pig mortality abating in Cargill herd
* Proper use of cattle feed additive questioned
(Adds comments on cattle additive Zilmax, Canada grain backlog)
By Rod Nickel
WINNIPEG, Manitoba, April 15 U.S. agribusiness
Cargill Inc expects the merger of its flour mill
operations with those of ConAgra Foods Inc to be
finalized in six to eight weeks after it clears a longstanding
regulatory hurdle, Cargill Executive Chairman Greg Page said on
The combined entity, to be called Ardent Mills, would join
ConAgra's milling operations with Horizon Milling LLC, which is
a joint venture of privately held Cargill and U.S. farm
cooperative CHS Inc. The deal was announced in March
2013 and was initially expected to be finalized late last year.
But the U.S. Justice Department's antitrust division has
been investigating the merger, which would result in Ardent
Mills controlling about a third of U.S. flour mill capacity.
"We hope everything will be resolved in the next six to
eight weeks," Page told reporters on the sidelines of the
Canadian Global Crops Symposium in Winnipeg. "It took longer
than we would have hoped, and I'm sure that our employees would
have hoped, but there's been continuous attention given to it by
the Justice Department.
"I think we're in the very final chapter of having it
Page also said the mortality of young pigs from the PED
(porcine epidemic diarrhea) virus has abated significantly
within Cargill's herds, which account for about 30 percent of
the hogs it processes.
"But the impact will last a long time because the death loss
was in very young pigs," he said. "This will have a long tail on
it through the end of the summer."
Cargill has lost hours of pork processing time and seen
"multimillion-dollar losses" due to the shortage of hogs caused
by the virus, Page said.
"We lose the ability to grow that animal out, and we lose
the opportunity to process and merchandise it. It's had a
The United States should make it mandatory that animal
owners and veterinarians report the presence of PEDv, Page said.
"It isn't about government interference, it's about
acknowledging that we're all interdependent on every other
participant in our industry, so my answer would be
unequivocally, 'yes'" to mandatory reporting.
ZILMAX USE QUESTIONED
Cargill, one of the world`s largest beef processors, last
year banned, at least temporarily, cattle raised on the
controversial feed additive Zilmax, made by Merck & Co Inc
, due to reports of lameness in cattle.
"We were religious in (following) withdrawal periods and
dosages and we did not observe some of the things that were
observed by others," Page said. "It leads us to wonder if the
administration of some of those compounds were exactly per the
"It's a reminder to all of us there are labels for a
Page said he did not know if Zilmax will recover from the
stigma attached to it.
Cargill Ltd, the company's Canadian division, has struggled
along with other grain handlers to move record-large Western
Canadian crops to ports after a harsh winter.
Western Canada grew an overall crop of 76 million tonnes
last year, which has strained the ability of Canadian National
Railway Co and Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd.
Millions of tonnes of crops such as wheat and canola are stored
on farms and in commercial bins, awaiting railcars to move them
Page said the handling and transportation system needs to
expand to handle crops on that scale again in the future. But he
said it is too soon to judge the railways' performance.
"The grade that the railroads get is going to be determined
in the next five months, not the last five months," he said.
Cargill is working to increase the company's ability to move
crops quickly through its Port Metro Vancouver terminal, said
Cargill Ltd President Jeff Vassart.
($1 = $1.10 Canadian)
(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Additional
writing by Christine Stebbins in Chicago; editing by Peter
Galloway and Matthew Lewis)