“Ill-timed, ill-planned and really a beggar-thy-neighbor strategy,” Page, 59, said of moves by Russia and others to ban grain exports as droughts and floods helped send stockpiles to their lowest levels in two generations.
Page warned that further disruptions might ratchet up costs so much that governments would jump in with more regulations — not only on grain shipments but also on energy, trade and financial markets. Such moves could discourage investing in agriculture and hurt the poor.
“We have to make sure lawmakers share our understanding,” he said, imploring the executives to increase their lobbying to keep government hands off agricultural markets.
Cargill is a big fan of the private sector — and of privacy, period. Founded in 1865 by William Cargill, son of a Scottish sea captain, the agricultural-commodities giant is in its seventh generation of family ownership, a record unmatched by any other major U.S. firm.
About 100 descendants of William Cargill control the company, which is based amid the mansions and lakes of Minneapolis suburb Wayzata. Shareholder equity — the difference between assets and liabilities on Cargill’s balance sheet — almost doubled, to $29.5 billion, during the 4½ years that ended in November and included the worst U.S. recession in seven decades.
Including its Mosaic fertilizer unit, Cargill’s revenue jumped 15 percent, to $91.8 billion, in the nine months that ended in February, the month before Page called for anti-intervention lobbying. Profit in the period almost doubled, to $3.5 billion, from a year earlier as food prices peaked.
‘They are the chain’
As food anxiety has crisscrossed the planet, Cargill has kept its name out of the public eye. There are no Cargill-branded products in supermarkets, and executives seldom speak with the news media.
Yet, Cargill has a huge hand in feeding the world. With 131,000 employees, it runs one of the country’s largest operations for converting corn into biofuels, as well as food for people and animals. It’s the No. 1 U.S. salt marketer and a top buyer and seller of cocoa and sugar. The No. 2 U.S. beef producer, Cargill can slice a cow 431 ways and fashion precise cuts so Wal-Mart doesn’t have to hire a butcher for every one of its shops.
“Cargill sells seed and chemicals to farmers, buys their grain, transports it to Cargill feedlots, kills the cattle and sells the beef,” says Dan Basse, president of Chicago-based research firm AgResource.
“They’re not part of the food chain; they are the chain.”
Whitney MacMillan, 81, one of seven Cargill billionaires and a former chief executive of the company, is among the biggest advocates for staying private, C. Daniel Clemente says. A Virginia lawyer, Clemente advised family members on governance for 11 years through 2005 and still speaks with James Cargill II, the founder’s great-grandson. The marriage of MacMillan’s grandfather and William Cargill’s daughter, Edna, in 1895 merged the families and initiated joint control of the business.