TORONTO -- Shares in Canadian dairy giant Saputo are rising amid rumors that the company may be interested in acquiring assets of U.S. dairy giant Land O' Lakes.

According to Reuters, Land O' Lakes, which is based in North Arden Hills, Minn., could divest some of its cheese assets to reduce its debt.

According to Justfood.com, an unnamed analyst said Saputo had the strongest balance sheet in the North American cheese industry and would face little competition for the Land O' Lakes assets. Saputo could even buy Land O' Lakes' entire U.S. cheese business if it was available, the analyst added.

Saputo announced last week that it has made a preliminary agreement to acquire Molfino Hermanos, Argentina's third-largest dairy processor, for U.S. $50.8 million (see related story "Saputo buys Argentine cheese maker to boost global exports").

In 2002, Saputo shuttered a handful of its own factories and bought a ConAgra cheese plant. (See related stories Saputo to close three Canadian cheese plants, Saputo to close Wisconsin cheese plant and Saputo acquires ConAgra Foods cheese plant.)

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