Co-op on the front foot to sustainability

ALI TOCKER
Last updated 07:50 20/12/2012

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Sustainability is Fonterra's "next big thing" after the launch of share Trading Among Farmers (Taf), chief executive Theo Spierings told the dairy co-operative's annual meeting in Hamilton.

Fonterra's new strategy identifies three key areas where Fonterra wants to make a difference - environment, nutrition and communities.

The goal is to make Fonterra a "sustainable co-op", providing the greatest nutritional value for the lowest environmental footprint per kilogram of milksolids, Spierings said.

Topping the environment list is water. "We cannot wait for government and regional councils to dictate to us what is going to happen."

Other areas of environmental focus are carbon, animal welfare and biodiversity.

Spierings said Fonterra had a "very deep commitment" to sustainable development.

The most difficult issues Fonterra and the industry had to resolve was: "What does compliance mean, what does non- compliance mean?"

The second priority, nutrition, was "very, very important", Spierings told this week's meeting, attended by about 350 farmer- shareholders.

Nutrition goals include making Fonterra dairy products accessible, affordable, the safest, nutrient-dense, and "a health solution choice".

Last but not least was the need to connect with communities, both by increasing economic benefits for rural people and by supporting health and wellbeing in the wider community.

Outgoing Fonterra chairman Sir Henry van der Heyden echoed Spierings' sustainability messages in his farewell speech as chairman.

He was responding to urging from Waikato shareholder Hilary Webber at the meeting that Fonterra "really needs to get on the front foot" over the issue of sustainability because it is becoming a risk to dairy farming.

"Yes, we've been a bit slow because of Taf, but now [sustainability] is number one on our agenda . . . we will pool all our resources, from the board to the shareholder council," he said.

Webber said sustainability was the environment-economic trade- off for New Zealand, and that there would "always be a trade-off for farmers".

Another shareholder asked what Fonterra was doing to ensure farmers could remain productive with the increasing focus on sustainability.

"We're fearful some of our tools may be taken away from us. We want to have sustainability and productivity," he said.

Fonterra co-operative affairs managing director Todd Muller said Fonterra subsidiary ViaLactia was working with Fonterra's partners in research, science and technology to ensure the sustainability investment and work were "appropriately focused on you as farmers".

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There were three on-farm priority areas, he said.

"The first is more milk. How we can enable more milk through science and technology and to get the best out of our cows?"

The second is around achieving a smaller environmental footprint. As 85 per cent of the footprint comes from on-farm activity, there is a focus on water quality, nitrogen management, greenhouse gas reduction, and animal health and welfare.

The third priority area was milk quality and safety, Muller said.

A two-week roadshow was planned for March with about 70 meetings at which farmers would learn about efforts being made on their behalf to "push back" on some regional council requirements; about on-farm support offered to farmers; and about the future.

This would cover: "Where are we heading and how do we work together to ensure we remain profitable into the future?" Muller said. Fairfax NZ

- Taranaki Daily News

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