OLD wounds have been reopened in the local rice industry, 12 months on from a takeover bid that almost tore SunRice and its growers apart.
An announcement by the Leeton-based company this week that it would undertake a comprehensive review has inflamed tensions and sparked accusations of “skullduggery”.
Shareholders narrowly rejected a lucrative $610 million bid for the company from Spanish food giant Ebro last year, despite claims from pro-sale proponents that Sunrice was overburdened with debt and faced with an uncertain future.
SunRice chairman Gerry Lawson and the company’s board will attend Ricegrowers’ Association (RGA) branch meetings this week to explain the new review and the company’s 2011/12 performance.
A strong profit result is expected, with overall paddy prices for the crop to top $250 a tonne and a plan to further reduce the company’s debt, including a move to drop its gearing ratio to below 70 per cent.
For opponents of the Ebro takeover, the strong financial bounceback proves irrefutably SunRice should never have been sold.
“The board told us at the time that we were a walking disaster; the company was broke and we would never see an end to the debt,” third generation Widgelli grower Chris Morshead said.
“It was just garbage and a lot of the information we were given at the time was very poor. There was a lot of scaremongering and skullduggery.
“There’s been a lot of anger in the last week since these numbers came out ... we were going to sell our own industry based on wrong information.
“What’s happened since vindicates the no vote.”
Mr Morshead said he and other growers had “copped a pizzling” at the time for voting no.
SunRice CEO Rob Gordon conceded the company had enjoyed a solid 12 months since the vote, but argued its debt load was still too high.
“We have benefited from a range of factors over the past 12 months ... which has surpassed all expectations,” Mr Gordon said.
“We need to focus on realising the opportunities that will position SunRice well for the future and create wealth for all shareholders.
“Part of this journey is reducing our gearing further.”