Book traces journey to Fonterra 'miracle'

Last updated 08:34 12/12/2013
Clive Lind
Fairfax NZ
AUTHOR: Clive Lind.

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The formation of dairy giant Fonterra was a miracle, says author Clive Lind.

Being part of a changing dairying industry has not been for the fainthearted, and nor was it easy to track the last 40 years of the industry's history, he said.

His latest book, Till The Cows Came Home, follows the industry from when Britain joined the European Economic Community in the 1970s through a bruising period that ended with many dairy co-operatives merging into the Fonterra powerhouse.

"It is a miracle that what became Fonterra came about as politicians and larger-than-life characters worked on solutions in their own driven ways," he said.

"But it did come about because in the end, the dairy farmers who owned the co- operatives had to have their say, and what they said was what counted."

The emergence of Europe's combined economic community removed many of the commercial and trade benefits New Zealand once depended on. New Zealand dairying had to transform itself into an international, competitive business or wither.

New thinking and ways of doing business, and developing markets in countries that often regarded dairy imports as some sort of plague, and protected their farmers through import tariffs or subsidies, had to be devised by a country proud of its entrepreneurial spirit but which often encased initiative in narrow laws and regulations.

When 1960s legislation effectively allowed the New Zealand Dairy Board to do anything it liked, as long as it wasn't breaking any laws, along came people who were delighted to exploit that openness.

This worked well until different political forces brought other economic ideologies to the fore from the mid-1980s and the dairy industry's structure came under attack.

Then came Fonterra, run by bruised and exhausted directors from different backgrounds who had fought their own battles for what they believed and what they thought should happen to the industry, said Lind, editorial development manager for Fairfax Media.

"There were no outright winners, and a lot of people had been burned in the process that saw 100 dairy companies over four decades become effectively one. The survivors may not have disagreed on the outcome but they did disagree on the detail."

Lind said he sought to explain this important phase beyond wooden descriptions of test tubes, stainless steel and chemical compositions, by telling the story largely through the people involved.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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