Green MP Steffan Browning behind push for organics to save Kaikoura's Fonterra cheese factory
An organic dairy farmer has given the Kaikoura community a glimmer of hope as the town deals with the closure of its Fonterra factory.
Former Fonterra staff, dairy farmers and members of the public met with organics expert Bryan Clearwater on Thursday night.
Clearwater, the only organic supplier paid a premium in the South Island by Fonterra, said there was "enormous potential" to produce organic cheese in Kaikoura.
He believed the Kaikoura plant was an incredible asset which had been well-maintained.
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Organics also fitted with Kaikoura's clean, green branding, Clearwater said.
Green MP Steffan Browning, who organised the meeting, was calling for a temporary ban on moving equipment out of the factory, saying Fonterra had not yet considered all its options.
"This is a real lost opportunity," he said.
"Here we have farmers interested in other options but Fonterra have not considered those options."
Clearwater said while organics posed some problems in terms of farm management, it also had great benefits in terms of improved fertility and herd health.
He knew it was a huge ask for farmers to convert, however there was a good market for organic products, particularly overseas, and this would likely grow.
He would not have visited Kaikoura if he did not believe there was a possibility for the factory, he said.
"We have got to have a stay of execution on this plant and have a sensible discussion," he said.
"It's not too late and we have got to try.
"Here we have skilled people, a great plant and the Kaikoura brand - it ticks all the boxes."
While there were some reservations among farmers who needed to be assured of profitability before they considered converting to organics, there was also some interest in committing to grass-fed as a point of difference and another option for Fonterra to look at.
Some people at the meeting agreed if enough pressure was put on Fonterra the plant could reopen.
It was understood the main equipment had not yet been removed.
The company said when announcing the closure that Kaikoura's cheese volumes would be split between Fonterra's Lichfield, Clandeboye, Stirling and Whareroa cheese plants, where cheese production was up to 16 per cent more cost effective than at Kaikoura.
Some questioned Fonterra's calculations, asking if they had factored in the additional costs of transporting milk out of the district.
Browning was scheduled to meet with Fonterra bosses on Friday.
He was going to ask them not to remove any equipment until more robust discussions had been held.
Browning also hoped to set up a roadshow for farmers to further explain the organics process and compliance requirements.
- Kaikoura Star