The once-mighty farmer-owned pillar of the Australian dairy industry, Murray Goulburn, has completed its demise after shareholders voted to sell it to Canadian dairy superpower, Saputo.
An overwhelming majority of 98.16 per cent of proxy votes elected for the sale of Murray Goulburn’s assets, the main pillar of the four resolutions to be voted on in Melbourne today.
The vote was for the sale of Murray Goulburn assets to Saputo, which will take over all the factories, staff and equipment owned by Murray Goulburn.
Murray Goulburn will keep $200 million to pay for legal costs and to pay out current legal action being taken against it and its management for its behaviour during the dairy crisis.
Defeated farmers who were against the sale now see it as the only opportunity to leave the former Australian dairy giant with dignity.
“I think as farmers we know what’s best,” Karinjeet Singh-Mahil, who farms at Crossley near Warrnambool, said.
“And that is the co-op’s actually sold and we get something out of it rather than waiting and then getting next to nothing.”
Final approvals pave way for takeover on May 1
The deal has already received Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) approval after the regulator initially rejected the proposal.
To get permission, Saputo has agreed to sell the Murray Goulburn factory at Koroit, close to its own Allansford factory, which was seen as anti-competitive by the ACCC.
Subject to Foreign Investment Review Board approval, Saputo will take over Murray Goulburn’s assets on May 1.
End of an era for Australian dairy
At its peak in 2014-15, Murray Goulburn collected more than 3.6 billion litres of milk from Australian dairy farmers to be processed for the local market or exported around the world.
It was Australia’s largest cooperative, a business that many farmers believed had their best interests and the highest possible milk price close to its heart.
Flying high, the company partially listed on the stock exchange in July 2015, but under its new structure struggled when markets started to turn sour.
It was forced to cut milk prices suddenly and retrospectively, driving its own farmers into debt and many out of the industry.
Then farmers began to desert the cooperative to supply milk to rivals.
With its milk production falling to under 2 billion litres, difficulties in matching competitors’ milk price, and an overbearing amount of infrastructure, the Murray Goulburn board said it had no option but to sell.
On May 1 when Saputo takes over, it will be the first time in the history of the Australian dairy industry that the largest company is foreign-owned.
The demise of Murray Goulburn has not only reshaped the dairy industry, but it has changed the attitudes of farmers in it.
“It really destroyed our faith in our industry. And the same thing happened to us,” Ms Singh-Mahil said.
“Will we ever trust anyone the way we used to prior to this? Probably not.”
By: Warwick Long, Clint Jasper
Source: ABC Rural