Sun | Apr 30, 2017

Ag-Chem transitions to new owner, back in business July 1

Published:Wednesday | June 24, 2015 | 6:00 AMNeville Graham

The new owners of Agricultural Chemicals Division (Ag-Chem) began taking stock of the chemical assets acquired from J. Wray & Nephew on Monday, a likely one-week exercise that should wrap up by month end.

Ag-Chem was acquired by Caribbean Chemicals and Agencies in a deal with Wray & Nephew valued at US$8.2 billion. The transaction is said to have closed in January.

Ag-Chem General Manager Graham Dunkley, who will continue to run the plant, said the company was getting ready for opening under the new ownership. The business is now Trinidadian owned and will operate as Ag Chem Plant Limited.

"We expect to complete the exercise by June 30. At that time, we would have done all the stocktaking, asset verification and the other associated exercises," Dunkley said.

Ag-Chem is one of the non-core businesses that Gruppo Campari decided to hive off after acquiring J. Wray and Nephew group - then known as Lascelles deMercado - in 2012. Campari secured a deal for the asset in December, about a month after it sold another non-core business, Federated Pharmaceuticals, to Kirk Distributors Limited. The latter deal was worth US$14.4 million.

Managing director of Trinidad-based Caribbean Chemicals, Joe Pires, says the acquisition positions the company to go after new markets.

"It's a win-win for Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago. With this acquisition, we will now be able to go into other markets such as the Bahamas and even down to Central and South America. At the same time, Ag-Chem will be looking to export their products into Trinidad," Pires told Wednesday Business.

"We presently import US$3.5 million in fertilisers from China. We see an opportunity for Ag-Chem to step into that position with what they produce," Pires said.

Dunkley said the Jamaican operation would be responsible for servicing all the western Caribbean markets, which takes in The Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, Haiti and Belize.

"All of that market will be targeted for growth with the expanded range of agricultural chemicals and allied products that will be available," he said.

Regarding Ag-Chem's 50-plus staff, Dunkley said he understands that they will be retained by the new owners and that he would continue to manage the plant.

"Caribbean Chemicals is a net employer and we should retain all the staff going forward. There should also be a few additions," Dunkley said.

Pires confirmed that Caribbean Chemicals has gone ahead to "hire three or four persons to take care of some aspects of the back-office operations that would have been done by Wray and Nephew's corporate office and is paying them directly from Trinidad until the takeover is finalised".

Pires said the transition has taken longer than expected because the company had to await authorisations from Jamaica's Pesticide Control Authority that have just recently been granted.

The official launch date for the new Ag-Chem operation is July 1. The company's board includes Pires as chairman, and Jamaicans Simon DuQuesnay, Paul Lalor, Martine Fontaine, Ollie McIntosh, Raymond Miles Jr and Bruce Levy.

Caribbean Chemicals is said to be the largest agricultural input supplier in the English-speaking Caribbean. The company, which was founded in 1967 by the late Joe Pires Sr, also has offices in Guyana and Suriname.

neville.graham@gleanerjm.com