The German chemical company Bayer said it will take over U.S. seed giant Monsanto to become one of the world's biggest agriculture conglomerates.
The $66 billion deal — the largest corporate mega-merger in a year full of them — could reshape the development of seeds and pesticides necessary to fueling the planet's food supply.
Bayer first made a $62 billion offer for Monsanto in May and has increased its bid over months of negotiations. The all-cash deal is valued at about $128 a share, making it the weightiest all-cash buyout in history, beating the $60 billion deal between brewers Anheuser-Busch and InBev in 2008.
Bayer in the U.S. is known largely for its pharmaceuticals, with scientists who developed modern Aspirin and Alka-Seltzer. But the deal would pivot the 117,000-employee company more towards its farm-targeting business in agriculture chemicals, crop supplies and compounds that kill bugs and weeds.
Monsanto is the world's largest supplier of genetically modified seeds, which now dominate American farming but are still a major source of environmental protests in Europe and abroad. The 20,000-employee company also develops Roundup, the weed-killing herbicide.
Bayer's sales totaled 46.3 billion Euro last year, or roughly $51 billion, about 30 percent of which came from its crop division. Monsanto's sales totaled $15 billion last year.
New seed types influential
The deal is a sign of just how influential the industry of genetically modified seeds has become around the world. Decried as unsafe and chemically tarnished "Frankenseeds" by some environmental activists, they have also allowed for greater harvest efficiency, stronger pest resistance and more widespread crop availability around the world.
A National Academies of Sciences panel of experts said in May that there was no "substantiated" evidence that genetically engineered crops had triggered human health concerns or hurt the environment, though they added that more research was needed.
The companies portrayed the deal as a landmark that would help them invest more in seeds, pesticides and technology for the global harvesting of fruits, vegetables, corn, cotton, soybeans and other crops.
"The whole agricultural industry around the world is basically going thru a transformation. It's the last big industry in the world to be digitized," said Robb Fraley, Monsanto's chief technology officer. "This allows to make more investments, have more capabilities and build better products for farmers, that they can use to grow crops with higher yields . . . and farm better, farm smarter."
The deal is likely to warrant intense scrutiny from American and German antitrust regulators, who will assess whether the merger would unfairly lead to higher prices for farmers worldwide. The new firm would preside over roughly a quarter of the world's seed and pesticide supplies.