Fonterra’s dairy farmers have made plain their dissatisfaction with the performance of the Shareholders’ Council to a steering group charged with reviewing its form and functions.
Farmers largely value the council’s four core functions – representation, monitoring, farmer connection and guardianship – but are not happy with how they have been done in recent times.
Steering group chairman James Buwalda said 1400 farmers were surveyed for their views and more than 2600 comments received.
A feedback summary has been sent to all farmer-shareholders.
“We are satisfied with that number of respondents and their comments. We have heard a full representation of possible views,” Buwalda said.
“Attention must turn to analysis of the key issues and options for addressing these.”
The clearer picture of what farmers perceive and want will now lead to identification of changes and improvements, he said.
“Within the constraints of Trading Among Farmers and the constitution, what can the council do better to protect the interests of shareholders?”
The steering group does not have preconceived views but it is encouraged the survey shows there is a problem worth working on and solving.
It will seek advice from academics here and internationally on farmer co-operatives and their structures.
Fewer than 10% of survey respondents thought the council should be disestablished.
The steering group has four selected farmers, two councillors and two Fonterra directors, plus Buwalda as independent chairman. He is a former senior public servant.
The timetable of the review has been disrupted by the covid-19 pandemic.
Consultation meetings will now be held in September and October with a final report and recommendations to be delivered to council chairman James Barron by the end of November.
It will not be in time to be considered at this year’s Fonterra annual meeting.
“We believe that thoroughness is more important than urgency and that our recommendations will be robust and stand the test of time,” Buwalda said.
One heavily involved reformer said the steering group’s approach has considerable merit.
He is also impressed by the outspokenness of farmers about the shortcomings of the council.
“We have lost the connections between farmers and their processing co-operatives that were a feature of the New Zealand industry up until Fonterra.
“So many capable businesspeople are among shareholders. They need to have input that is heard and recognised, not in a condescending way.
“Credit to Buwalda and his group because this now looks like our review of our co-op.
“When coupled with the strategy reset I am now more optimistic about Fonterra than I have been for a number of years.”