20 Jun 2012

Fonterra would lose control of destiny if TAF rejected: CEO

10:45 am on 20 June 2012

Fonterra says it will no longer be in control of its own destiny if Trading Among Farmers does not proceed.

Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings says huge amount of time and effort has been spent to ensure Trading Among Farmers (TAF) strengthened the co-operative's capital structure and protected 100% farmer control and ownership.

But he says a no vote does not mean the company just goes back to the status quo.

Mr Spierings says it would need to go back to the drawing board to resolve redemption risk and would have to put on hold projects to increase the volume and value of its dairy exports.

The make or break part of the TAF proposal is the shareholders' fund, where outside investors could buy the dividend rights of shares deposited by farmers.

Critics argue that has the potential to undermine farmer ownership and control of the co-operative.

Decisive vote needed

Fonterra says it needs a decisive vote for TAF to go ahead and company representatives have been fronting up to extra meetings this week, following the series of 50 or so scheduled farmer meetings.

At the latest of those, in Hawera on Monday, Mr Spierings spoke to about 200 Taranaki farmers who turned up at short notice.

They included former Shareholders Council chairman Blue Read who headed the farmer watchdog body when farmers initially gave the TAF scheme strong backing.

Mr Read says he'll be among those voting for it following what he called a robust process after which safeguards have been introduced.

He says the TAF proposal is a very neat way round current issues.

"Some of the constraints we have on our company now were introduced as a cost of forming something that was almost effectively a monopoly in New Zealand. Its a very unusual situation internationally."

Mr Read thinks it is likely the TAF plan will get a majority vote, but says it will be the strength of the vote that will count.

A group of farmers opposed to the TAF plan and the threat they see from outside investors buying dividend rights to shares have also been lobbying their fellow shareholders.

One of the group, Canterbury dairy farmer Leonie Guiney, is questioning the sort of pressure Fonterra is putting on farmers to support TAF.

Farmers can vote by internet, post or fax up until Saturday, or vote in person or by proxy at the special meeting on Monday at one of eight venues around the country.

The Shareholders Council says about 35% of the 10,500 farmer-shareholders have voted so far, with about half of those voting on-line.