Fonterra says it will start talking next week with its farmer shareholders about introducing share trading.
The third and final stage of the capital restructuring will allow farmers to trade shares between themselves, in a bid to stop money washing in and out of the co-operative when times are tough.
Fonterra says it will launch the consultation process on Wednesday 7 April. It will then consult directly with its 10,500 shareholders through a series of meetings to be held throughout New Zealand the following week.
The company got strong farmer support last year for the first two stages of its capital restructuring plan, which allows farmers to buy extra shares not linked to milk supply.
Obligation to buy back shares would end
The Shareholders' Council supports the concept, which would involve farmers buying or selling Fonterra shares among themselves, instead of having to buy or redeem them through the co-operative.
The advantage from Fonterra's point of view is that it would end its obligation to buy back shares, as it currently has to do when farmers leave the co-operative or reduce their milk supply.
It would also provide the company with a more stable supply of capital without sacrificing farmer ownership or control.
'Deterrent' to switching processors feared
However, one of Fonterra's competitors has criticised the move.
Open Country Dairy says ending the requirement for Fonterra to redeem shares at full value could be a deterrent to suppliers wanting to switch processors, as they might be forced to sell their shares at a lower price - and that could bring further pressure from American and European interests, which have already accused New Zealand of restrictive trade practices.
That view has already been dismissed by Fonterra, which says there will be no restrictions on entry and exit for its farmers.