West Coast farmers have agreed this afternoon to sell off the dairy co-operative Westland Milk to a massive Chinese company in a landmark vote in Greymouth.
Ninety-three per cent of the farmers voted in favour of the sale.
The New Zealand company will be bought out at $3.41 per share, for a total of $588 million, by Hongkong Jingang Trade Holdings, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Chinese dairy giant Yili.
Westland Milk has a large factory in Hokitika and is the biggest employer on the West Coast, serving 429 farmer-shareholders. It has struggled under hundreds of millions of dollars in debt and consistently failed to compete with Fonterra.
Farmers interviewed by 1 NEWS at the vote today said selling the company was their only choice after years of poor management by Westland Milk.
Shareholder Fleur Lange, who runs 420 dairy cows on her Kowhitrangi farm says she’s been struggling to “put food on the table” and has had to go to her parents for help due to the low dairy payouts.
“We’re West Coasters through and through, and we love the company, but this is our only choice left to us. We have no other choice, we just can’t continue the way we are,” she says.
Hokitika farmer Jim Wafelbakker says Westland Milk’s payouts have routinely fallen behind those offered by Fonterra in other parts of New Zealand, and many farmers across the West Coast are now close to bankruptcy.
“Our farm is heavy in debt because we have through low income from the dairy company, we have lost in the last four years, $500,000.”
However, the decision has disappointed others in the community, including two protestors standing outside with signs while the vote was held in Greymouth today.
Protestor Shane Duncan described the move as “selling the future of his children” and was later involved in a heated discussion with farmer Jim Wafelbakker, who retorted that the sale was the only way to save the dairy industry on the West Coast.
Agriculture Minister and West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O’Conner also described the vote as a “bad day for the West Coast region” and said it was disappointing.
Grey District mayor Tony Kokshoorn also described the decision as a “sad day for the West Coast” and suggested the new owner may later try to amalgamate many of its administration jobs with its other operations elsewhere in New Zealand.
“They’ve tried to compete with Fonterra over the years and that was a bad move really to compete with them,” he says.
“The farmers really have their arms twisted here, because they have a lot of debt.”
The decision will still need to be approved by the Overseas Investment Office.