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Bunge accelerated its efforts to regain scale in Australia - where it once owned assets from flour milling to steel - by revealing plans for a second port grain terminal, less than a month after opening its first.

Bunge - one of the ABCD group of big agriculture traders, with Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill and Louis Dreyfus - said that its Australian subsidiary was to build a bulk grain export terminal at Geelong, in the state of Victoria.

The terminal, which will handle 450,000 tonnes of grain a year, will comprise a grain receival facility and three storage silos, and link to an existing woodchip loading facility at the port.

Chris Aucote, the Bunge Australia general manager - who is also president of the Australian Grains Exporters Association, and was formerly grains representative of the Victorian Farmers Federation - said that the company had received "very good co-operation" from Geelong's port managers.

"We see this investment as being strongly positive," Mr Aucote said.

Return to Aus

The announcement comes less than a month after Bunge loaded the first cargo - of 18,000 tonnes, bound for the Philippines - at its Aus$40m-50m Bunbury port in Western Australia, Australia's top grain-growing state, which has for export facilities been the fiefdom of co-operative CBH.

Indeed, CBH itself until the 1980s operated at Bunbury, where Bunge has developed storage capacity for 50,000 tonnes of grain, and received permits to ship up to 500,000 tonnes in its first two years.

The Geelong site will further mark Bunge's return to an Australian market which it first entered in 1923, 16 years before the creation of the Australian Wheat Board, with a monopoly for the country's grain marketing.

Bunge over the next 50 years attempted to boost its profits in Australia through expanding into flour milling, buying operations in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria, baking, through the acquisition of Herbert Adams Holdings, and steel, in 1959 becoming a distribution agent for Broken Hill and John Lysaght.

The group also expanded into pig rearing, owning Fidelity Meat Industries at Albury in New South Wales.

However, Bunge said it sold "all the assets" it owned Australia in 2001 - only to return six years later when Australian grains marketing was deregulated and the Australian Wheat Board (AWB), for which Mr Aucote once worked, stripped of its monopoly.

Foreign investment spree

The deregulation has lured a series of foreign investments in the grains industry in Australia which, as a large wheat producer, but relatively small consumer, is seen as a key source for crops to meet food demand in nearby Asia.

However, unlike many of its peers, Bunge has thus far grown through investing in its own operations rather than through acquisition.

US-based Cargill has bought the trading operations of AWB, and CHS a 50% stake in Agfarm, while Archer Daniels Midland last year failed in an attempt to buy GrainCorp, of which it owns 20%.

In June, Japan's Mitsubishi Corporation's purchase of control of Olam International's Australian grains business. In February, Japan-based Sumitomo Corp bought control of Australian cereals handler Emerald Grain.

Growing competition

Nonetheless, the Australian government has remained cautious over the market share held by some grains businesses, rejecting ADM's takeover of GrainCorp in November in part on grounds that it might stifle competition.

Bunge's Geelong plans represent the second announcement since then of a new port facility within GrainCorp's stronghold of eastern Australia.

Noble Group has joined with logistics operator to develop facilities at Port Kembla, New South Wales, in which Cargill and Emerald Grain may also invest,

In Western Australia, Bunge has already held talks with rival grain traders over access to the Bunbury site, and CHS said last month that it was "no secret that a lot of companies have been looking at investment options [in the state], whether in Kwinana, Geraldton, Albany or Esperance".

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