(Adds Monsanto, Deere and DOJ comments, adds background and details of the scrapped deal)
By Karl Plume
CHICAGO, May 1 (Reuters) - Monsanto Co has terminated an agreement to sell its Precision Planting LLC farm equipment business to machinery maker Deere & Co, the companies said on Monday, ending a legal fight with antitrust authorities over the deal.
The U.S. Department of Justice last August filed a lawsuit to block the sale, arguing the deal could make it more expensive for farmers to use fast, precise planting technology. The planned sale was originally announced in late 2015. Financial terms were not disclosed.
Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, and Deere, the biggest U.S. farm equipment manufacturer, had been preparing to argue the case later this year.
“We just didn’t see that there was a clear path going forward, that the DOJ was going to approve the transaction. We have a valuable business and people in limbo and it was just time to move on,” Michael Stern, CEO of Climate Corporation, the Monsanto subsidiary that runs the Precision Planting business, said in an interview.
Monsanto remains committed to selling the business to another buyer and said there has been “significant interest” from other buyers, Stern said.
He declined to identify the potential buyers or disclose a timeline for a sale.
A digital collaboration agreement between Deere and Climate and a distribution deal with farm data management company Ag Leader will also be terminated, Deere said in a release.
“We are deeply disappointed in this outcome as we remain confident the acquisition would have benefited customers,” John May, Deere’s president of agricultural solutions and chief information officer, said in the release.
The Department of Justice hailed the deal’s termination as “a victory for American farmers and consumers.”
Monsanto shares closed 0.2 percent higher at $116.87. Deere ended up 0.3 percent at $111.97 a share.
Additional reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis