Candidates for Fonterra's board will find out their fate tomorrow after what farmers say has been a tight race for a say in how New Zealand's biggest exporter is run.

Five candidates have put their names forward for three positions.

Incumbent directors Nicola Shadbolt, Ashley Waugh and former chairman John Wilson were required to retire by rotation.

Neither Shadbolt nor former chairman Wilson sought re-election, but Waugh has offered himself for a second term.

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Zespri chairman Peter McBride, Maori leader Jamie Tuuta and Waugh have been through the independent nomination process, with the support of the Fonterra board and the Fonterra Shareholder's Council.

Under Fonterra's self-nomination process, where farmers can stand with the support of 35 shareholders, outspoken critic and former director Leonie Guiney, and mid-Canterbury farmer John Nicholls have put their names forward.

Farmers have said success for the self-nominated candidates would be construed as a vote of no confidence in the board, which has presided over Fonterra's first-ever loss this year of $196 million, a $405m writedown of its holding in China's Beingmate, and a $183m compensation payment to French food group Danone over the 2013 botulism scare.

Federated Farmers dairy vice-chairman Wayne Langford, a Fonterra supplier who farms at Golden Bay, said he was happy with the calibre of all the candidates.

"There are going to be some high-quality people who will miss out," he said.

"I think all five of them have got a pretty good chance, so it's going to be tough," he said.

Langford said the two self-nominations were "probably timely given the performance of Fonterra and the board in recent times".

"They have definitely got support - how much I guess only time will tell," Langford said.

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"The farmers I've been talking to say it's going to be a close race compared to previous years," he said.

Fonterra has been under fire from politicians, environmentalists, and parts of the investment community for its performance.

Within in its own ranks, questions are being asked about Fonterra's corporate governance, the director selection process, and its capital structure, which has Trading Among Farmers (TAF) as its cornerstone.

As it stands, the board is relatively new - current chairman John Monaghan is the last remaining member of the board that introduced TAF in 2012.

Lloyd Downing, a Fonterra supplier who farms near Morrinsville, said he backed the director selection process.

"There are three candidates that have been put in front of the committee as a panel, and they know the questions to ask," he said.

"In my opinion it's the best way to go - otherwise it's like a lucky dip."

"If they are not good enough to get past the panel they are not good enough to vote for."

Downing acknowledged that the co-op had drawn some heavy flak over its $755m investment in Beingmate but defended its broader strategy in the People's Republic.

"Will we get our money back that we have invested? No.

"But the thing is we get $5.5 billion every year from the milk that we send to China - that's one tanker load in every four.

"As far as I am concerned, that's what you have to go on," he said.

"People think that Fonterra is on the rocks, which is bullshit.

"It's all turned to custard with Beingmate, but it's not broken," he said.

Cambridge farmer Garry Reymer, who himself had an unsuccessful run at board in 2014, also backed the selection process because it had helped to take board elections away from being a popularity contest.

"If the people who went through the selection panel process did not get on the board, I would read that as a pretty serious indictment on the existing board," he said.

Reymer said change at Fonterra - New Zealand's biggest exporter - would take time.

"Anyone who thinks they can change everything in 12 months is in cuckoo land," he said.

"It's a big machine and you can't change things overnight."