25 Jun 2012

Crunch day for Fonterra

7:53 am on 25 June 2012

It's crunch day for Fonterra. By Monday afternoon, it will know whether it has the support it needs from its farmer shareholders to proceed with the Trading Among Farmers plan, which it has spent years preparing and which has been the focus of intense debate.

Almost three quarters of the co-operative's 10,500 shareholders have already voted.

Some 74% responded by post, fax or email by Saturday morning's deadline.

Those who have not yet voted have one last chance - at Monday's special meeting at eight venues around the country, with an audio-visual link to the main venue in Hamilton.

Fonterra chairman Sir Henry van der Heyden is expecting a big turnout and he's not prepared to predict the outcome.

But he says Fonterra does not have the option of letting things ride if farmers don't give TAF the go ahead.

It will put even more pressure on the co-operative to remove what it calls the redemption risk overhanging it - that's having to pay out farmers who cash in shares as they leave the co-operative or reduce milk supply.

Sir Henry says if Trading Among Farmers does not go through, the board will have to go back to farmers for a third time to look at other options.

Convincing majority needed

The main resolution giving Fonterra approval to proceed with TAF, requires a simple majority, that's more than 50%, although Sir Henry has already said it won't proceed unless it gets a convincing majority.

A second resolution will require 75% support as it involves changes to the co-operative's constitution.

That includes conditions that would tighten up the part of TAF most worrying its critics - the Shareholders Fund that would allow outsiders to invest in the dividend earnings of shares.

The resolution would restrict the size of the fund and also limit the number of shares farmers can place in it.

As well, it reduces the number shares that farmers can hold beyond what they need to match their milk supply.

There are also two resolutions put up by individual shareholders that farmers are voting on: one calling for Trading Among Farmers to be wiped, and one calling for TAF to require a 75% vote to go ahead.

The outcome of the voting, and the Fonterra board's response to it, will be known by the end of the day.