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Two of the nation's leading agribusiness cooperatives are exploring a potential merger that would give the combined company a broader footprint across the United States.

CHS, based in Inver Grove Heights, and Illinois-based Growmark recently announced they have launched an "exploratory process" to partner more closely.

"We believe that by working together we can better serve our farmer- and cooperative-owners," CHS Chief Executive Jay Debertin said in a statement. "Ultimately, we aim to better meet customer demand for our owners' products around the world and increase the value of the cooperative system."

While no deal is certain, a co-op combination could result in Minnesota losing a Fortune 500 headquarters — or it could remain and grow in size from the Twin Cities. CHS is the far larger cooperative, with $45.6 billion in revenue in its last fiscal year compared to $14.5 billion for Growmark.

"Why would we assume CHS is going to Illinois?" said Ed Usset, a commodity marketing expert and University of Minnesota Extension professor. "My gut says CHS is much bigger, and maybe it's the other way around."

A CHS spokesperson said, "There are no pre-determined goals at this time and, therefore, no speculation on major changes to either organization."

"As part of this exploratory process, the teams will review all available options, which could range from maintaining the status quo to a merger or anything in between," the spokesperson said.

CHS operates globally, but its footprint in the U.S. is strongest in western corn belt states, Usset said. Growmark, which owns the FS brand that its members use, is more involved in the eastern half of the continent stretching from Wisconsin to Delaware.

"They each have regional strengths. That would be a fit," Usset said. In the commodity business, "the lowest-cost producer, the most efficient player, wins," he said.

The two also have distinct businesses that could complement each other when put under one roof. In addition to trading and processing grain and other agricultural goods, CHS refines oil and markets fertilizer. Growmark has commercial construction operations in addition to its ag and energy wholesale business.

"Continuing our long history of adding value to our members and customers, while ensuring a strong and vibrant cooperative system for the future, is critical to the Growmark System," Growmark CEO Mark Orr said in a statement.

The two cooperatives partnered to form Cooperative Ventures in 2021, a venture capital fund focused on ag tech.

"The two farmer-owned cooperatives have had a long-standing relationship," CHS said.