Fonterra chairman John Wilson is standing down from his role with immediate effect as he recovers from a recent serious health scare.
Within the last month Mr Wilson has undergone a significant surgery and will require ongoing treatment, Fonterra said.
In a message to farmers, Mr Wilson said the decision to stand down as chair had been difficult but was ultimately in the best interests of the co-operative.
The board has selected John Monaghan to take up the role of chairman.
Former National Party agriculture minister Nathan Guy said on Twitter that he had enjoyed working with Mr Wilson who had achieved a lot in Fonterra.
I enjoyed working with John Wilson domestically & on trade missions over 5 years. He’s been a strong advocate for NZ dairy farmers & the Coop. The loan facility saved many farmers when global milk prices crashed. John has achieved a lot in Fonterra & here’s to a speedy recovery pic.twitter.com/HMxheuLmxx— Nathan Guy (@NathanGuyOtaki) July 26, 2018
Another former National minister, Food & Grocery Council chief executive Katherine Rich, called Mr Wilson a patriot and a great New Zealander.
Federated Farmers dairy section head Chris Lewis said Mr Wilson steered the company through many difficult times, and he respects the way he performed.
Mr Wilson was elected to the Fonterra board in 2003 and became chairman in 2012.
During that time the payout to dairy farmers peaked at $8.40 per kilogram of milk solids but in 2016/15 sank to $3.90 - which Mr Lewis blamed on fluctuations in the world market. The milk payout for 2019 season is predicted to be $7 a kilo.
Mr Wilson was also chairman during the 2013 a false food safety scare in China, which led Fonterra being ordered to pay huge damages to French company Danone. Mr Guy said the company and the government had learned from this and improved safety regulations as a result.
More recently, the co-operative hit financial turbulance.
Theo Spierings stepped down as chief executive in March as Fonterra [http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/business/353004/fonterra-profit-tumbles-on-writedowns announced a first-half $348m loss. The main reason was a write-down of $405m in the value of its stake in a loss-making Chinese food company, Beingmate.
Regional Development Minister Shane Jones lambasted the dairy giant in June saying it had become out of touch with the farming community. Mr Jones said Mr Wilson should "catch the next cab out of town" and that the co-operative needed to be restructured.
Fonterra said John Monaghan has been closely involved in the process to appoint a new chief executive and would now "lead the advancement of this appointment".
Mr Monaghan has current farming interests in the Wairarapa and Otago and has "taken a lead role in representing Fonterra's interests on customer visits and global trade issues", the statement from the co-operative said.
Mr Wilson will retire from the board in November.