Shares in the Italian-French sugar company Beghin-Say jumped on July 9 after a group of Italian farmers' associations joined French beet growers in saying it would be interested in at least a minority stake in the firm. "We are interested in Beghin-Say, even in a minority stake (along with French sugar beet growers). Funds are not a problem," Confagricoltura head Augusto Bocchini told Reuters. The Italian farmers group, which includes Confagricoltura, Finbieticola and the sugar beet growers' association, wants to protect the domestic industry, which has eight factories and employs some 1,400 people with over 22,500 farmers growing beet. French sugar beet growers' group CGB said on July 6 that it had formed a legal structure to buy Beghin-Say, just days after it began trading as a separate entity. Beghin-Say was formed from the break-up of food processor Eridania Beghin-Say along with oils unit Cereol, starch group Cerestar and animal feed unit Provimi. Parent company Montedison retains a 54 per cent stake in each of the four, but no sale is currently possible as the Italian firm is the subject of a hostile takeover bid from the Fiat-led Italenergia group. Financial analysts put the value of Montedison's 54 per cent stake in Beghin-Say at around Euro600m with the whole company worth Euro1.06bn at Monday's closing price. Beghin-Say has 25 plants scattered across France, Italy and Hungary. It has 4,000 employees and 37,000 farmers growing beet for the company's production. Beghin-Say produces 2.3 million tons of sugar annually and is Europe's second largest producer behind Germany's Südzucker group. Italian farmers are worried the country might lose sugar plants if Beghin-Say becomes wholly owned by French producers. According to Bocchini, funds could come from Sviluppo Italia (Development Italy), which, he said, had ample financial resources aimed at restructuring the beet and sugar sector. "Together we could be a strong unit," he said. "We are looking at sugar first and foremost, but it might also be important to look at Cereol," he added. The French CGB group will proceed with plans to buy Beghin-Say by the end of the year "if the growers are in agreement," a spokeswoman said on July 6.