EMERALD chairman Alan Winney has set tongues wagging after suggesting Australia's largest malt producer, Joe White Maltings, could soon be up for sale.
Mr Winney made the off-the-cuff remark at a breakfast held to celebrate 100 years of WAFarmers last Thursday where he discussed globalisation and its impact on the Australian agricultural industry.
Mr Winney said the rapid consolidation and globalisation of the world's agricultural industries meant free trade, the break down of tariffs and a reduction of trade barriers would soon start to impact more heavily on iconic businesses like Viterra's Joe White Maltings.
He said now that Swiss giant Glencore International had secured its hold on the Canadian company Viterra, smaller companies like Viterra's Joe White Maltings might not survive in Glencore's portfolio.
Although Glencore later denied the claim, Mr Winney said he didn't think the Joe White Maltings business really fitted with what Glencore had done in other parts of the world.
"I think Joe White Maltings could potentially be something which comes onto the market," he said.
Producing close to 60 per cent of Australia's malt, Joe White Maltings was also a significant player on the world market.
"Of course it's not the first time the industry has seen grain companies merge together and then go international," Mr Winney said.
"Big moves like this provide grain processing concentration and reach."
But he said it would remain to be seen what might come of some of Viterra's "smaller" business arms.
He said large global companies like Glencore would become even bigger players in the next 20-30 years due to globalisation.
But further industry whispers also suggested there might already be a prospective buyer waiting in the wings.
One grain marketer tipped CBH to be the front runner if Joe White came onto the market but CBH also denied the claims.
In a statement to Farm Weekly CBH said it was always investigating potential investment opportunities to create and return value to WA growers but it would never comment on specific assets, whether they were under consideration or not.
Viterra was the largest malt producer in Australia with its seven plants including its specialty malting facility in Ballarat that produced more than 550,000 tonnes a year.
Malt produced by Viterra is sold under the Joe White Maltings brand name and supplied to brewers in Singapore, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, Indonesia, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines and Malaysia as well as Australia.
Before Glencore's purchase of Viterra, Viterra's integrated barley sourcing, combined with its superior technology made Joe White Maltings Australia's number one export malster.