Fonterra aims to play its part in helping the Northland economy with the recovery from the effects of the Covid-19 lockdown.
As one of the region's largest businesses, Fonterra provides work for its employees at the Kauri and Maungaturoto plants as well as at eight Farm Source stores and about 140 supporting businesses.
An important part of helping the region is to buy local wherever possible, according to Northland Farm Source regional manager Mike Borrie and Kauri operations manager Rowan Hartigan.
One measure Fonterra has introduced is to keep small businesses running smoothly by helping with cashflow.
From July 1, Fonterra will accelerate payments so invoices are paid within 10 working days instead of on the 20th of each month.
The changes affect 138 Northland suppliers, from cleaners to electricians with fewer than 50 employees and invoicing of up to NZD$300,000 per year.
Buying local is another aim using local vendors of ingredients and cleaning products.
Borrie said he made sure to choose a local firm for a concreting job at a Northland Farm Source branch.
"It's multi-faceted,'' he said.
Hartigan and Borrie both wanted to acknowledge their teams who had all risen to the challenge of helping the co-operative's operations run smoothly through the lockdown.
As an essential business, Fonterra needed to keep operating efficiently to keep processing milk from its more than 900 active Northland dairy farmers.
Hartigan said his team had to line up with all the new safety protocols and everyone helped implement these.
"Our Fonterra bubble was fantastic. Everyone pitched in to keep operations going as safely as possible. A lot of people were working from home and we only had operational staff running the powder plants.''
Borrie said he had never been prouder as staff at the Farm Source stores pitched in to help keep farmers supplied with all the equipment that they needed during lockdown.
"All of the staff really got on board and mucked in to help and came up with good suggestions which they shared. It was awesome to see.''
The drought had added pressure to all of Fonterra's operations, from the farmers to the dairy factories.
Hartigan said the water table was still very low in Northland and the challenge for the two Northland factories was to secure sustainable water supplies for the future.
Fonterra has three months of water storage in two large lagoons which, when full, can contain 360 million litres.
While normally this makes them self-sufficient and independent of council water supplies, it became evident during the drought that water supplies to both sites needed boosting.
"We are working with the councils to see what can be done. We also have a working party set up to try and see what we can do to reduce our footprint and use less water in our processing,'' Hartigan said.
The future of dairying remains bright, with many job opportunities being advertised.
Borrie said it was always a challenge to attract quality candidates, and they were heartened with recent projects to encourage young people into a career in the dairy industry.
Hartigan said job opportunities are not just on farms.
"We have job opportunities that include both seasonal and fulltime roles in our factories as dairy apprentices and in trades such as electrical and mechanical work. This year we want to broaden that scope and we are actively recruiting.''
Job opportunities include on-farm jobs for farmer shareholders as well as roles in factories and Farm Source stores such as tanker drivers, lab technicians, forklift operators, process operators and retail managers and sustainability experts.
With the 2019-2020 milking season virtually complete, Borrie said production for the North Island is relatively flat, "although it was a bad year for drought''.
He said farmers had tried to maintain cows' condition by dipping in to winter feed earlier "which makes me a bit nervous".
He is hoping recent rainfalls will help ease the pressure on feed shortages before full winter slows grass growth.
The company is looking forward to technology advancements to keep ahead of market expectations.
New milk vat technology is being rolled out to all Fonterra suppliers throughout New Zealand, with Northland among the first.
The vat sensor system allows farmers to run a smart shed where they and the factory can monitor milk temperature, agitation and volume.
It also acts as an early warning system to alert the farmer if there is a problem with any part of the milk storage system by sending alerts to mobile phones.
Fonterra can use the readings to help with knowing when the vats are full and the milk needs to be picked up.
Hartigan said the new system will help improve efficiency. "Farmers set up their own milking time window which dictates when each individual farm will have the volume of milk that needs to be picked up.''
Borrie said good technology measures will help to meet the expectations of customers who are wanting more information about their food.
"This type of technology is giving us an edge where we can track from farm to factory and on to the customer,'' he said.
Northland's dairy farmers make a significant contribution to the region's economy, with an income of about $645 million this financial year. About half of this is spent in the local community.