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Current as of 24/11/14 07:40PM NZST

Defining moment for Fonterra, says chairman

By Owen Hembry

Sir Henry van der Heyden (on screen) says farmer participation in the voting was the strongest since Fonterra was formed in 2001. Photo / Christine Cornege
Sir Henry van der Heyden (on screen) says farmer participation in the voting was the strongest since Fonterra was formed in 2001. Photo / Christine Cornege

Approval by Fonterra's farmers to start share trading among themselves is a defining moment for the co-operative, says chairman Sir Henry van der Heyden.

The proposal was given 89.85 per cent support and the participation was the strongest since Fonterra was formed in 2001, van der Heyden said.

"I'm sure you'll find today's result will be unifying for the co-operative and I'm sure as we go forward we'll look back to today as being quite a defining moment, a defining time in the co-operative," he said.

"It signals a clear mandate and shows that the unity and spirit of our co-op is alive and well."

Video-linked meetings were held yesterday at seven sites across the country, with voting also by other means, including post and online.

The change to share trading among farmers, rather than with Fonterra, aimed to remove redemption risk and provide permanent share capital.

"The cold, hard reality is that there's every chance our co-op will have periods of lower growth in our milk supply," van der Heyden said.

Fonterra's balance sheet could come under acute pressure with the current capital structure, he said.

"This could happen quite quickly. And it would be very difficult to fix our capital structure while Fonterra was facing this sort of financial stress."

Equity fell by about $600 million after the drought of 2007/08, he said.

The mood among farmers at the meeting in Hamilton was broadly supportive.

Sharemilker and equity partnership dairy farmer Hugh Candy said there was a feeling of unity, of Fonterra moving forward and that every farmer counted.

"The communication with Fonterra's been brilliant from a farmer perspective," Candy said.

"Every farmer has a voice no matter on their size, and their vote counts."

Candy thought the proposal was good.

"I think it's a happy medium and it seems to be the best way of farmers controlling and keeping ownership of Fonterra and they can reinvest into Fonterra if they choose."

Grahame Webber, who has a dairy farm near Taupo, said farmers would be happy with share trading.

"How all the nuts and bolts work has still got to come out but I think that Fonterra will do that job rather well and I think then it will become just part of the co-operative," Webber said.

"At the end of the day [the] guys [will] probably be pretty damn comfortable with it."

Fonterra Shareholders' Council chairman Blue Read said the result was a great outcome for the co-operative.

"Successful implementation of trading among farmers will give Fonterra a stable platform while making sure the business remains owned and controlled by farmers," Read said.

There was an added bonus from the intense consultation, he said.

"As a direct result of this frank exchange of ideas, the healthy debate, and the listening to each other I believe Fonterra's focus on farmers is stronger than ever," Read said.

"It seems to me this consultation has reaffirmed and renewed our unity of purpose."

Fonterra chief executive Andrew Ferrier said permanent capital helped Fonterra make long-term business decisions that strengthen its competitive position in the world market.

"The benefits come from us having more funds that we can invest to strengthen the business and invest to grow with our customers because we don't have to keep those funds in reserve in case we have redemptions."

LET'S TRADE

Share trading among farmers:

* Farmers buy shares in Fonterra based on the level of their production.

* Changes will see farmers buy and sell shares among themselves through a market, rather than with Fonterra.

* Plan aims to remove a redemption risk of Fonterra having to pay farmers when they cash in shares and provide the company with permanent share capital.

* It is expected to take about 15 months to develop the details through to implementation.

- NZ Herald

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