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Fonterra farmers 'should be pleased with progress' after record loss, says chair

Thursday 7th November 2019

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Fonterra Cooperative Group’s new strategy of extracting maximum value from local milk pools appears to have the backing of its farmer shareholders for now.

About 200 Fonterra shareholders made the trek to Invercargill for the company’s annual meeting, where the cooperative’s biggest loss and consequent plans to overhaul the business were the key themes.

Chair John Monaghan and chief executive Miles Hurrell ran through the 2019 financial numbers that the Fonterra farmers were familiar with and outlined the new strategy ditching the pursuit of global volume in favour of generating the most value from local milk pools.

“There’s no question about it, it’s been a tough year. We always knew it was going to be, and we should be pleased with the progress we’ve made. That sounds strange for a year in which we made a record loss of more than $600 million. But it’s real,” Monaghan said, himself a Fonterra farmer shareholder and supplier.

Fonterra’s board and management say they have improved communications with shareholders and adopted more transparent reporting.

The destruction of shareholder wealth – with the share price falling to a record low $3.15 – was the obvious bone of contention. The events leading to that and the $826 million of writedowns announced for the last financial year were among issues that prompted shareholder Jan Marten Kingma to seek accountability at the board level with Monaghan’s resignation, to mild applause.

Monaghan noted his anger, but told the meeting that everyone was responsible in one way or another.

“It’s one thing to cut and run. It’s another thing to stand up and to do something about it,” he said.

The meeting was notable for many farmers speaking in support of the strategic tilt and thanking the board and management for making the tough decisions.

Monaghan invited shareholders to speak, often calling them by their first names, and giving them plenty of time to either vent their frustration or question specific elements of the $20 billion revenue business.

The loudest applause was reserved for Duncan Coull, who finished his term as chair of the Fonterra Shareholders’ Council.

Coull outlined how Fonterra fell short on the majority of the council’s monitoring metrics in the latest year.

James Barron was named as the council’s new chair and felt the heat in the tensest part of the meeting, when two shareholder proposals were discussed that would put the acid on the council.

Southland farmer Tony Paterson’s bid for an independent review of the council, which is intended to be farmer shareholders' main conduit for communication with Fonterra, started life as an idea he kicked around with two other local farmers, but gained momentum as word spread.

That in turn, prompted the council to undertake its own review, which prompted both the board and council to recommend rejection of the proposal. It attracted 44.8 percent support before the meeting.

Trevor Simpson, who spoke on behalf of a separate proposal to inject some external expertise into the council, told the meeting that the two resolutions had already done their job by posing the questions about whether the council was doing the job that shareholders wanted, or was a waste of money.

Barron committed to farmers that the council’s own review would be completed in time for next year’s annual meeting, and that all submissions would be available to make sure it was as transparent as possible.


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