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Book Review: Merchants of Grain By Dan Morgan

Merchants of Grain is a detailed and alluring account of five very secretive but very large companies that are in the center of the world’s food supply.

Merchants of Grain is a detailed and alluring account of five very secretive but very large companies that are in the center of the world’s food supply: Cargill, Continental, Louis Dreyfus, Bunge, and Andre.  All of these companies are as dominating today as they were 25-50-75-100 years ago.

Up until 10 years ago, all five were private (Bunge is now public).  One thing has stayed consistent, all of the companies still fly under the radar and are still very much family owned.  For example, Simon Fribourg started Continental Grain Company in 1813, and today a Fribourg (Paul Fribourg is the Chairman & CEO) still runs the company. Continental is one of the largest companies in the world.

Although the book was written in 1979, I’m sure not that much has changed in regards to the big five’s size and importance to the food supply. In 1974 for example, Cargill’s share of American food exports was barley (42%), Oats (32%), Wheat (29%), Sorghum (22%), Soybeans (18%), and Corn (16%).  Abroad, the big five domination of the grain trade was even more impressive, controlling 90% of Canada’s barley exports, 80% of Argentina’s wheat exports, 90% of Australia’s sorghum exports.  Again, this was in 1974, but I’m sure they still control a vast amount of food resources.

Today, Cargill is the largest private company in the US employing 142,000 people in 65 countries with annual revenues of $133 billion in 2012. Bunge (now public) employs 35,000 in 40 countries with annual revenues of $60 billion.  Louis Dreyfus employs 35,000 in 53 countries with annual revenues of $50 billion. The point is these companies are still around and thriving, as they were a generation or two ago.

On the worldwide stage, Grain is as important as Oil. Merchants of Grain provides a captivating history lesson on how these companies got their start and events that transpired throughout the 1900’s that allowed them to grow, prosper, and dominate the grain trade.


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