Fonterra is flying in a veteran Australian environmentalist and former head of Greenpeace to help its farmers see the value in sustainable practices.
Paul Gilding, an international business adviser, author and speaker, will headline a series of seminars being held around the country this month.
The Fonterra Shareholders' Council said its "Grow Your Minds" seminars were designed to give farmers a better understanding of current sustainability and commercial issues.
"We want to be leaders in this space and in order for this to happen it is important our farmers see the value in sustainable practices," said chairman Ian Brown.
It was also important for farmers to hear views from outside the Fonterra Co-Operative, Brown said.
Gilding, who served as executive director for Greenpeace International in the early 1990s, said Kiwi dairy farmers must embrace sustainable farming practices if they wanted to keep a strong foot in the market.
Demand from both general consumers and major corporates like Unilever was heading in one direction - towards sustainably produced dairy products, he said.
"The point of my speaking tour is to say, 'This is going to happen in the global market and if you want to hand on a healthy farming business to your kids, you need to embrace the future in this way'.
"I'm not saying this is not annoying for the farmers - it does require new approaches and it requires change - but that's just a normal part of business."
Gilding said New Zealand dairy farmers already had a significant advantage over other countries because they ran pasture-fed systems, rather than grain-fed as in the US.
He said that as people became increasingly cynical about big corporates, Fonterra's co-operative structure would be a major plus.
A third advantage was New Zealand's reputation as a clean and green country, at least compared with most other countries.
"As the demand rises for clean and green food, the better off New Zealand dairy is," Gilding said.
Based on a 20ha farm in Tasmania, Gilding has written a book about how climate change will transform the global economy, called The Great Disruption.
In 2003, Fonterra signed a joint agreement called The Dairying and Clean Streams Accord which ran for a 10-year period ending on December 31 last year.
It aimed to promote sustainable dairy farming by reducing the impacts of dairying on the quality of New Zealand streams, rivers, lakes, ground water and wetlands.
One of the major targets was for farmers to exclude 90 per cent of stock from waterways by 2012. A Ministry of Primary Industries report released in February showed this target had not been met, with Fonterra farms achieving an 87 per cent exclusion rate.
The Accord has now been succeeded by Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord.
The Grow Your Minds seminars will focus on issues such as how farmers should balance future global food demand with protecting the environment and what lessons can be learned from the mistakes of others.
They will run from May 20-24, in Whangarei, Hamilton, Rotorua, New Plymouth, Palmerston North, Christchurch, Dunedin, Invercargill.
For more information, shareholders can contact their local shareholders' councillor, area manager or go to Fencepost.com.