Manitoba farm equipment company Buhler distances itself from Russian ownership

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Farm tractor and equipment under the Versatile brand, which is owned by Winnipeg-based Buhler Industries Inc., a Russian-controlled company.Handout

Winnipeg-based Buhler Industries Inc. is distancing itself from its Russian owners following the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine, even as a Manitoba MP claims the company’s board members farm equipment would face some of the same penalties that Canada has already imposed on other Russians as punishment for the attack.

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Buhler is 96.7% owned by Rostselmash, a major agricultural equipment manufacturer based in Rostov-on-Don in Russia, near the country’s border with Ukraine. The remaining Buhler shares are held by investors and employees.

One of Buhler’s directors is Konstantin Babkin, a businessman and founder of the Action Party, a Russian political party.

James Bezan, a Conservative MP who represents the riding of Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman in Manitoba, said Friday that Mr. Babkin is well known for his public support for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Bezan added that he was also concerned about three other Russians on Buhler’s seven-person board: Chairman Dmitry Udras and directors Yury Ryazanov and Oleg Gorbunov.

Rostselmash and anyone with ties to various Russian companies should not be allowed to benefit from Buhler’s business operations, Bezan said.

Buhler has not been affected by Canada’s current sanctions, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing, Adam Reid, said in an email. The economic measures were introduced on Thursday after Russia launched its full-scale invasion.

“Buhler Industries has not exported products to Russia since 2019 and no longer does business in the region. These sanctions will not impact current business strategy,” Reid wrote on Friday.

In a statement released Thursday, Buhler condemned the invasion.

“Buhler Industries is not a Russian company. Our values ​​are rooted in North America, where the company has been in business since 1932,” the statement read. “Buhler Industries operates autonomously; our staff is Canadian and American, the head office is in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and the company’s management and decisions are made in Canada.

Buhler employs approximately 700 people in Manitoba.

Although Ottawa has imposed sanctions on dozens of Russian individuals and entities, Bezan said, tough measures such as Canada travel bans and asset freezes must be expanded to punish more people and prevent them from benefiting from Canadian investments.

“They cannot use Canada as a haven for Russian oligarchs. We have to be very principled and tough on our sanctions,” he added.

Buhler’s operations in Manitoba include plants in Winnipeg and Morden. Its products include Versatile brand agricultural tractors, which compete with brands such as John Deere and Case. The company’s customers are mainly in Canada, the United States and Australia.

Rostselmash bought an 80% stake in Buhler in 2007. Two months ago, the Russian multinational acquired more shares from John Buhler, a Manitoba philanthropist who retired as president and CEO of Buhler in 2007.

The company lost about $400,000 in its most recent fiscal year, which ended September 30, 2021. Its revenue grew 1.5% year-over-year to 253, $4 million. In the prior year, the company recorded a loss of $25.8 million.

Shares of Buhler, which are thinly traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange, closed at $3.01 on Feb. 4.

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