Meet the three members of the Fonterra Shareholders Council representing the 1000 Northland dairy farmers in New Zealand's biggest industry, which earned about 35 per cent of the country's income from exports last year.
The council monitors Fonterra management strategy and provides farmer shareholders with opportunities to learn more about their co-operative. Shareholders are also encouraged to contact their councillors with concerns and issues.
They also report to shareholders quarterly and run initiatives such as the popular Understanding Your Co-operative Programme during which shareholders spend two days learning about the co-operative with presenters from the board, management and council.
The next programme will be in March 2015 and shareholders can apply to participate either through their councillor or the Farm Source magazine.
The longest serving of the Northland councillors is Terence Brocx, who with his wife, Suzanne, milks 650 cows on 162 hectares at Okaihau and 75ha at Ohaeawai, averaging production of about 265,000kgMS annually.
He has been the shareholders' councillor for the Northern Northland ward extending from the Far North down to Whangarei Heads east of the Mangakahia River for six years. Some Waikato or Taranaki wards involve only a few minutes driving for all shareholders to assemble, but meeting the 385 dairy farmers Mr Brocx represents requires long journeys.
"The distances involved are a challenge, needing more effort," he said.
Mr Brocx is on the Shareholders Council performance committee, which is tasked with ensuring the company follows its co-operative principles.
Before Fonterra, dairy farmers could chat to their co-operative chairmen at their local dairy factories.
With the gap between the Fonterra board and suppliers now much wider, the performance committee has an essential role in questioning the company management and board on behalf of farmers.
Mr Brocx said committee members received confidential company information they were unable to disclose, which sometimes made it difficult to convince farmers the directors were getting the right messages from the milking sheds.
Tracey Bryan and her husband, Richard, milk 620 cows on 320ha on the outskirts of Wellsford, averaging production of about 190,000kgMS annually.
Mrs Bryan has been representing the 337 dairy farmers in the Southern Northland ward for the past two years and the work often sees her on the back roads between Mangapai and Auckland. She went to Awarua to speak to 10 farmers recently and followed that up with a similar call to Helensville.
"Council representation takes me along to farm workshops and field days around the ward," she said. "Fonterra holds a few meetings every year and, whenever the directors visit wards, the councillors host meetings."
Together with Ward 3 area manager John Bryant, Mrs Bryan plans to increase understanding of the co-operative by arranging to have more Fonterra speakers addressing farmers in her ward in future.
She is also on the Auckland Council rural advisory panel, getting dairy farmers' view across on waterways policies and other rural issues affecting the supercity.
Penny Smart was elected to represent the Northern Wairoa ward last year.
When this ward was absorbed by the other three Northland wards during boundary changes in August, she contested the Central Northland ward in recent elections, beating Alex Wright who had represented the ward since 2012.
Ms Smart and her husband, Hal Harding, use a predominantly biological system to milk 800 cows near Dargaville, producing about 345,000kgMS last season.
There is an expectation each of 35 shareholder councillors around the country will take the views of farmers they represent to the full council and Ms Smart is committed to engaging with each of the about 400 shareholders in her ward at least once a year.
She attends farm workshops and discussion days, phones them, and has ward dinners, probably at Whangarei and Dargaville, on her drawing board for next year.
Ms Smart is also a member of the Northland Dairy Development Trust, which is keen to be first contact for anyone wanting help to apply for research funding. The trust is involved in the Northland Agricultural Research Farm and Dairy NZ Partners Farms projects.