Zespri chairman Peter McBride could be a runner in this year's Fonterra director elections.

The Herald understands the head of the national kiwifruit export marketer and chief executive of large-scale North Island dairying and kiwifruit operation Trinity Lands has been urged by fellow Fonterra shareholders to stand for the board of New Zealand's biggest company.

Nominations close today.

There's no word yet whether Fonterra's embattled chairman John Wilson who, along with directors Nicola Shadbolt and Ashley Waugh, is retiring by rotation this year, will seek a fifth term at Fonterra's top table.


If Wilson doesn't intend to stand he should have, in the interests of responsible governance, said so some time ago to allow for orderly succession planning, said one shareholder who declined to be named.

Wilson, who has been chairman for two of his four terms, could not be contacted.

If he does seek re-election, his name - along with other candidates - won't be revealed until September 10 at the earliest under Fonterra's unusual farmer-director election process.

Wilson's leadership of the $19 billion farmer-owned dairy cooperative has been attacked recently by NZ First Cabinet Ministers amid Fonterra's claimed capital losses of up to $1.3 billion, mostly from its investments in China.

And the Government's current review of the legislation which enabled Fonterra's creation from an industry mega-merger in 2001 has re-ignited critics' claims that its financial performance has not lived up to the privileged national champion status it was awarded at the time.

Fonterra has up to seven shareholder-elected directors and four independent governors, appointed by the board.

McBride, believed to be the largest single shareholder in Zespri, has been a director of the kiwifruit marketer since 2002 and its chairman since 2013. Trinity Lands is a $300 million revenue kiwifruit and dairying operation, mostly based in the Waikato.

Zespri has overseen the recovery of the kiwifruit industry from a devastating Psa bacterial disease infection, which struck its Bay of Plenty growing capital in 2010 and swept through the North Island. The cost to the 2700-grower industry was estimated at nearly $900m.


Zespri's global sales last year returned $2.2b. The grower-owned company's goal is for $4.5b sales by 2025.

Fonterra's farmer-director election process means all candidate names are under wraps until September 10 and September 20, depending respectively on which path they choose to take before an independent assessment panel - an independent nomination or the self-nomination process.

Incumbent directors standing again can be expected to take the independent nomination option.

Candidates who make it past the panel are then subject to voting by about 10,000 farmer-shareholders.

Results of the elections are announced in October.

Fonterra's chief executive Theo Spierings leaves the company later this year.

While there's unrest among Fonterra shareholders about the company's financial performance - many at Fieldays in June said it was time for a change of leadership - the Beehive attacks on Wilson and veiled threats to break up Fonterra have, as predicted, strengthened farmer support for the big cooperative, which 17 years after its formation still has around 80 per cent of the raw milk market.

Cambridge shareholder Garry Reymer said, while there was a tendency for Fonterra directors "to stay too long", he would be happy for Wilson to seek re-election.

Having the chief executive and the chairman exiting close together was not desirable, he said.

"We had that (situation) with Henry van der Heyden and Andrew Ferrier, and Henry stayed on a year or two longer than he should have or probably wanted to, and I suspect that could be some of the motivation for John if he stands again.

"It's an unfortunate cycle to be in. It's the second time we've done it and I'm not happy about it."