18 Jun 2012

Fonterra says it won't get funding from outside investors

1:43 pm on 18 June 2012

Fonterra says it won't be getting any money from outside investors under its Trading Among Farmers (TAF) plan.

Farmer shareholders debated the TAF proposals at about 50 meetings around the country.

The proposals go to a final vote on 25 June which will hinge on whether farmers decide to accept or reject the controversial shareholders fund proposed as part of TAF.

Under the plan, farmers would receive cash for shares deposited in the fund at the going market rate.

Outside investors would be able to buy units in the fund, entitling them to the dividends from the shares, but without any voting rights or control over those shares.

Critics say it will open up the co-operative to pressure from outside investors demanding higher dividends at the expense of milk payouts.

Fonterra chairman Sir Henry van der Heyden disputes that, and he says there has been a misconception among farmers that Fonterra would receive the money from those investors buying into the fund.

He says the purpose of the fund is not about raising capital.

"The purpose of the fund is to provide liquidity, this is around open exit and open entry, so what happens is, if a farmer wants to sell his or her economic rights, the money actually goes to the farmer, it does not go into the co-operative".

Sir Henry says the investors in the unit fund are outside the co-operative and the unit fund is separate from the co-operative.

He says all Fonterra's capital will continue to come from its farmer shareholders.

However, opponents continue to argue that the shareholders fund will undermine the co-operative status of Fonterra.

A member of the Our Co-operative farmer group, Lachlan Mackenzie, says selling the economic rights to the shares to outside investors will compromise the co-operative.

He points to issues raised in a report by consultant James Morrison, prepared for the Parliamentary select committee that considered legislation to pave the way for TAF.

He says the report pointed out that TAF is the sale of all the co-operative assets into a non co-operative structure, there is likely to be pressure to reduce the milk price, and simpler options, with less threat to farmers, are available to Fonterra.

Opponents say the TAF debate is forcing a split in farmer shareholder ranks.