New Cargill chief urges caution on ethanol

The baton was passed at Cargill Inc. on June 1, with 33-year employee Gregory Page, 55, taking over as CEO. That title was held for eight years by Warren Staley, who remains chairman until the board meeting Sept. 11.

In an interview with the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Page said he hopes to continue growing the company, especially on a global basis. But he also hopes to increase (and gain more credit for) Cargill's already substantial community activism and to make the closely held firm a little more public.

He also reaffirmed his predecessor's stance on moving cautiously on ethanol and biofuels. Page said recent political sentiment has put alternative fuels ahead of nearly everything, "and food was an afterthought."

"In years where we have great weather, as we continue to grow our productivity and yields, the [ethanol] industry can grow,” Page told the newspaper. "We just have to be sure that the more-is-better mindset doesn't get way out ahead of the capacity of the land to provide the fuel."

Despite that caution, Cargill is heavily investing in ethanol production, though perhaps less so than agribusiness competitor Archer Daniels Midland Co. "We think it's going to be a big business," the new CEO admitted.

But with the weather not entirely cooperating, is the world facing a grain squeeze, the paper asked? "We could be three months away if we don't have the weather we all expect," Page said. "What we would like to see is some thoughtfulness about what we will do if we have a weather calamity."

Despite being private, the Minnetonka, Minn.-based conglomerate on May 31, 2006, announced FY2006 annual sales of $75 billion and $1.7 billion in earnings. It has 78 business units operating in 66 countries. Through unofficial sources, we estimate Cargill’s North American processed food sales at $5.83 billion, putting it in the top 20 companies of our Top 100(c) list, which will be published next month.

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