Election signals change for meat industry

Farmers with connections to the Meat Industry Excellence (MIE) reform group have been elected onto the board of major processor and exporter Silver Fern Farms (SFF).

Former MIE chairman Richard Young, of Gore, and executive member Dan Jex-Blake, of Gisborne, headed the vote count in the director election to take two board seats.

Young received 36,155,094 votes and Jex-Blake 25,511,166 to be elected on the board in a three-way contest with David Shaw, who missed out with 19,435,482 votes.

MIE has made no secret of targeting the farmer-owned co-operatives to return the meat industry to profitability and last Friday, former executive member Don Morrison, from Gore, was elected on to the Alliance Group board along with its chairman, Murray Taggart from Oxford. Furthermore, Alliance shareholders voted in favour of a resolution urging the appointment of dairy and beef farmer John Monaghan, a Fonterra director, as an independent director. The Alliance board has the final say on this appointment, but has stated it would take into account farmers' views.

Both elections had a high voter turnout reflecting farmer interest in turning around the performance of the co-operatives and the industry after tough trading years.

Nearly 49 per cent of Alliance shareholders voted, well up from previous years and 26.7 per cent of SFF shareholders participated from 16.7 per cent in 2010.

SFF chairman-elect Rob Hewett said the higher turnout reflected the understanding of shareholders for the need for real reform across the industry.

"We are acutely aware of the need to keep up momentum for reform and we saw the increased farmer turnout at this election as a key indicator of farmers' desire to support the co-operative."

He said the election platform of candidates with MIE links was well aligned to the SFF board's own vision and, in particular, their call for farmers to support co-operatives and farmer ownership.

" ... so we take great heart in that farmers have voted for such a movement and we look forward to increased farmer support at an operational level."

Mr Hewett said he looked forward to officially welcoming Mr Young and Mr Jex-Blake onto the board.

"We have been progressing options for industry change over the past 18 months, and their farmer support base will be invaluable as we continue to look at ways for farmer ownership to drive change and improve farmer control of the sector.

"While this election has shown farmers want change, we can't let the momentum fall away. Farmers now need to step up and jointly drive that momentum for change. The next step for farmers is to see increased numbers of farmers exclusively supplying their co-operatives."

Votes were received from 1351 shareholders from a total of 5049 eligible voters. Farmer shareholders needed to meet requirements that included supplying a minimum level of stock for processing over the past two seasons.

Fairfax Media