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Agrium eyes one-quarter share of U.S. farm retail sector

NEW YORK - Agrium Inc, North America's biggest retail seller of products for farming, sees ample opportunities to buy and build more stores in the United States and looks to claim a quarter of the market, its chief executive said on Thursday.

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NEW YORK - Agrium Inc, North America's biggest retail seller of products for farming, sees ample opportunities to buy and build more stores in the United States and looks to claim a quarter of the market, its chief executive said on Thursday.

The Calgary-based company aims to eventually raise its leading 17 percent U.S. market share to more than 25 percent, said Chief Executive Chuck Magro, on the sidelines of a BMO investor conference in New York.

Agrium bought 27 U.S. retail locations, which sell seed, fertilizer, chemicals and advisory services to farmers, during the first quarter. Retail locations have moved to high tech in recent years, including satellite-imaging technology, drones and laboratory samples of crops.

Along with that shift, large companies have become better suited to run stores than independent owners, Magro said.

"This is not your grandfather's farming or retail operations," he said. "We're seeing a lot of mid-size companies, with five, 10, 15 retail facilities becoming available."

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The company is also looking at building new stores, with particular interest in the U.S. Midwest, he said.

The U.S. retail sector is fragmented and other chains, such as CHS Inc, Growmark and Wilbur-Ellis, control well under 10 percent each.

Agrium is not shifting away from fertilizer production, despite recent soft prices, but sees wholesale and retail businesses as complementary, Magro said.

Earlier this month, Agrium reported a surprise quarterly profit and cut its 2016 profit forecast as nutrient prices remain weak.

Agrium continues to ramp up production of its Saskatchewan potash mine, and funnels much of the potash through its North American retail stores. Even so, the company is not contemplating an exit from Canpotex Ltd, the offshore marketing company it owns with Potash Corp of Saskatchewan and Mosaic Co,, Magro said. 

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