18 Nov 2009

Farmers give Fonterra the go-ahead for restructuring

10:04 pm on 18 November 2009

Fonterra farmer shareholders have voted overwhelmingly to change the co-operative's capital structure.

At Fonterra's annual meeting in Ashburton the vote was 89% in favour of the proposal - well over the 75% required.

The change allows farmers to buy 20% more shares than they need to match their milk supply. Fonterra chairman Sir Henry van der Heyden says he expects about half of Fonterra's 10,500 farmers to take up the share offer.

Earlier, he had said that the decision was as important as the vote they took to create the co-operative in 2001.

Looking for ways to fund growth and cut debt

Fonterra is looking for more ways to fund growth and reduce reliance on borrowing. Farmer opposition forced it to ditch earlier plans to open up its business operations to outside investment with a listing on the stock exchange. Its proposals this time round are less ambitious, keeping share ownership "in-house".

Not only will farmers who belong to the co-operative be entitled to buy up to 20% more shares, they will eventually be able to trade all shares with other farmers.

At present shares have to match milk output - if farmers produce more, they buy more shares. But if production falls Fonterra has to buy back shares - which means millions of dollars washing in and out of the company.