Show us the numbers, demand TAF opponents

ANDREA FOX
Last updated 08:18 03/07/2012

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Anti-TAF Fonterra shareholders are battling tradition by demanding the milksolids vote in support of share trading among farmers be revealed in individual farmer numbers.

In a letter claiming to represent the 33 per cent of milksolids supply that did not vote for TAF, the Fonterra Shareholders Council has been asked to find out how many of Fonterra's 10,500 shareholders voted for it.

Fonterra leaders claimed 66 per cent of milksolids support for TAF in last week's vote.

South Canterbury farmer Leonie Guiney, a spokeswoman for TAF opponents, said the letter also asks councillors to explain how they so "misread" shareholders' wishes in voting 94 per cent in favour of TAF.

Guiney said councillors are voted in on a farm-by-farm basis, not by milksolids supplied, so individual farmer voting numbers should be made available.

TAF opponents believe a breakdown of voting would show big herd owners, who traditionally side with directors, carried the day while many smaller farmers were opposed.

But council chairman Ian Brown said Fonterra shareholder voting was always decided on a milksolids supplied basis.

Fonterra spokesman Graeme McMillan said all voting since Fonterra's creation 11 years ago had been based on milksolids and was enshrined in the constitution. "As a result these are the only figures we publish."

Brown, who recently replaced Simon Couper - who quit the chair citing TAF's danger to continued farmer ownership and control of New Zealand's biggest company - acknowledged that councillors were elected by two votes per farm.

"But all other votes are on milksolids."

Guiney said the level of council support for TAF threw into doubt the independence of the so-called farmer watchdog from Fonterra directors.

"Independence is not obvious. How confident can farmers be of anything in future votes under a TAF regime?

"The council stood shoulder to shoulder with the board."

TAF involves offering sharemarket investors dividend-carrying, non-voting units in Fonterra shares deposited by farmers for cash in a Fonterra Shareholders' Fund. It is this fund and the potential impact of unit holders' dividend demands on milk payout and farmers' share price that is concerning shareholders.

Guiney said a galling aspect of the TAF vote was that farmers themselves funded an aggressive public relations campaign to swing shareholders' behind TAF.

Brown said the council was "absolutely" independent of the board and did not accept the claim that it misread the shareholder mood.

The way councillors voted demonstrated "independence of thinking", and followed more than two years close study of the TAF proposal, he said. "The majority are still milking cows. We are all farmers at the end of the day."

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Grappling with proposals like TAF was not farmers' core business. But, as he had seen after many "breakout" meetings he had personally held with farmers on TAF, "they quickly got it". Fairfax NZ

- © Fairfax NZ News

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