Proterra Investment Partners, the private-equity firm spun off from agricultural commodities producer and trader Cargill Inc., is looking at several opportunities to buy farmland in Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America.
It plans to invest a total of $450 million in farmland and related infrastructure in the region as well as in Australia, mostly through ventures with local partners, said Brent Bechtle, the Minneapolis-based firm’s head of agriculture funds. It expects to make investments in Brazil in the next three to six months, he said.
"We have found interesting value in Brazil," Bechtle said in a telephone interview Thursday. Proterra is focused on acquiring land via ventures with local companies for soybean and corn production in new farming frontiers in the country’s northern areas, including Para state, he said.
Proterra announced its first investment in Brazil in December: the acquisition of two sugar-cane mills with a combined 3.7 million metric tons of crushing capacity and 35,000 hectares (86,000 acres) of farmland from Brazil’s Antonio Ruette Agroindustrial Ltda. The deal is valued at about $175 million, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Bechtle said his firm isn’t looking for more sugar and ethanol deals currently.
Being a dollar-based buyer looking outside the U.S. for deals is working in Proterra’s favor. The greenback has gained 41 percent against Brazil’s currency over the past year as the nation heads for its longest recession in more than a century.
The weak real isn’t just making Brazilian assets more affordable for foreigners, it’s also crippling some domestic companies with high levels of dollar-denominated debt levels. One such example is Antonio Ruette Agroindustrial, which defaulted on its debt before selling mills and land to Proterra.
Cargill continues to be an investor in Proterra but won’t be involved in the management of the mills the firm is acquiring. Still, Proterra’s new sugar assets will probably have a commercial relationship with Alvean, a sugar-trading joint venture between Cargill and Brazil’s Copersucar SA, Bechtle said.
The investment firm is also looking at potential investments in Colombia and Mexico. Latin America should get about half of Proterra’s $450 million fund for farmland acquisition, said Bechtle said.
Proterra was previously part of Cargill’s Black River Asset Management investment unit. Cargill announced the break-up and spin off of Black River in September.