DairyNZ says it is time to look at how the dairy industry can stay competitive in the wake of a record low Farmgate Milk Price and mounting debt.
It is stepping up its support to farmers and is running workshops across the country this week focussing on sharemilkers and farm owners working with sharemilkers.
Chief executive Tim Mackle said Fonterra has done well since it formed in 2001, and the main challenge for farmers - compared to other tough years - was the mountain of debt that had grown.
"Ten percent of the highest indebted farms have 30 percent of the total dairy debt - that's $11 to $12 billion or $10 million each. But that doesn't mean all those farms are at risk," says Dr Mackle.
"Twenty percent of the highest indebted farms have 45 to 50 percent of the total debt - $15 to $38 billion. But again these bald figures don't necessarily spell doom and gloom for all. While many in this group will be facing extreme pressure, it is the combination of high debt and high farm costs that will require urgent action. As we feared, milk price has been low for too long. We're keen to see interest rates come down after last week's OCR cut. That will help all farmers. Many are also looking at other income they can bring in off-farm or through diversification.
He said Fonterra had done well, but the focus needed to shift.
"It's been a fairly good period I'd say, but we need to re-set our competitiveness"
Mr Mackle said Dairy NZ was making more effort to see farmers in person.
He said one focus was on pasture to maintain competitiveness.
"We've always been shut out of many of the worlds markets, and really our ability to source pasture has always been our competitive advantage.
"We need to go back and look hard at challenging ourselves, are we doing everything we can to grow and harvest as much as we can of what is our cheapest feed - there really are a lot of reasons why right now we have to focus hard on utilising pasture and taking more expensive options out of our systems for now."