Wednesday, 01 July 2020 12:38

Lapdog needs more teeth — Fonterra farmers

Written by  Sudesh Kissun
Steering Group chair James Buwalda says there were strong views that the perceived performance or effectiveness of council was not up to expectations. Steering Group chair James Buwalda says there were strong views that the perceived performance or effectiveness of council was not up to expectations.

Fonterra shareholders have delivered a damning assessment of their elected Shareholders Council.

While only 10% of farmers want the council abolished, a majority have questioned the effectiveness of the 25-member council.

The common theme among most submissions is a view the council has failed to perform on its four main core roles – representation, monitoring Fonterra’s performance, farmer connection and representation.

A steering group, formed to review the council’s performance, collected feedback from 1400 shareholders and sharemilkers via an online survey. An interim report was released to farmers 10 days ago and a copy was obtained by Rural News.

It’s clear from the report that Fonterra farmers want the council to stand up to the board and not just accept its decisions on key issues. Many respondents feel disconnected or isolated from the company they own, and they place responsibility for this with the council.

Covid-19 restrictions prevented the steering group – made up of Fonterra directors, farmers and councillors – from meeting farmers. A consultation round has been scheduled for September and October. A final report will be delivered by the end of November, instead of August as earlier planned.

With just 10% of submitters backing the abolishment of the council, it is highly unlikely the steering group will recommend that.

Steering group independent chairman James Buwalda told Rural News that it was too early to comment on what it will recommend.

Buwalda says there were strong views that the perceived performance or effectiveness of council was not up to expectations. 

“We are therefore focusing now on what needs to be done to improve the perceived performance/effectiveness of these critical functions for farmers,” he says.

“Until we have considered options more critically, it is too early to say what our recommendations for fulfilling these functions will be and what implications such recommendations may have for the council.”

On representation, while 67% of respondents rated the council’s role as important, 60% said it is ineffective.

Fonterra’s board also came under scrutiny. The report says many perceived the council to have little influence with the board. 

“Concern was also expressed about the board’s willingness to engage with and listen to the council,” the report says.

The council’s role in monitoring Fonterra’s performance also drew a lot of comments. While 72% rated the role highly, over half said the council’s performance in this regard was “less than average”. There were calls for greater council engagement when the board is considering significant strategic decisions and investments, and calls for the use of professional advisers and analysts by the council to keep a tab on the co-op’s performance.

There were also calls for the council to be better connected with farmer shareholders.

“Some felt the council offered little or no value for farmer connection, perceiving a lack of courage to express its own views, and suggested that farmers could connect directly with the board instead.”

There was strong support for the council’s guardianship of co-op principles. But over 40% say the council is failing in this department as well.

“Comment on the director election process was common, with most supporting the council’s role. 

“However, concern was also expressed about perceived weaknesses and failures in this process recently,” the report says.

The steering group is currently planning the schedule of farmer meetings.

“We are keen to ensure all farmers that want to participate in such meetings are able to do so.”

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Lely offerings for the future

Dutch robotic specialist Lely launched a new farm management application called Horizon at its recent Future Farm Days 2020.

Designed to connect data from a range of on-farm equipment and suppliers into one management system, it creates a real-time decision-support platform, to make the farmer’s life easier, the herd healthier and the farm more profitable, says Lely.

Developed over a 24-month period, with over 100 test farmers in seven countries, working with 75 engineers, designers, farm management advisors, veterinarians and AI specialists, the new application will eventually replace the current Lely T4C management system. It uses smart algorithms and the cloud to deliver data that is processed into actionable information that is always accessible on any device in a user-friendly way.

Lely claims the Horizon application unburdens farmers from routine decision making and helps them optimise their workloads, using integrated routines based on easily scheduled cow ‘touches’, create logical and more efficient workflows. It is also possible to assign a certain task to an employee and to schedule a time slot for the cow touch, rather than analysing different reports and filtering long lists.

Horizon is also able to connect and combine data from non-Lely sources into a complete solution for the farmer removing the need to enter the same data twice, while scrutinising individual data streams in different applications will no longer be necessary. Currently, connections with farming applications such as Dairy Comp, Uniform-Agri, CRV and Herde already enable farmers to synchronise information about calving and inseminations between applications. Lely’s ambition is to connect with more partners over time, to hand the farmer more smart data.

To ensure full support in the migration to Lely Horizon, existing Lely T4C customers will be personally informed by their Lely Center before the end of 2020.

The migration is planned in a phased approach, from country to country, over the year 2021.

Also launched at the event, Lely Exos is an autonomous concept for harvesting and feeding fresh grass to the herd.

The company suggests that feeding fresh grass makes better use of available roughage, suggesting “fresh” has between 10 and 20% more nutritional value than grass silage, as there are minimal losses typically seen during mowing, tedding, raking, harvesting and feeding.

Lely suggests that feeding fresh grass over an extended season reduces the amount of silage that has to be conserved, reduces the need for concentrates and bought-in feed and increase the margin made on each litre of milk produced.

Based around an all-electric vehicle that mows and feeds, Exos is light weight and uses soil friendly technology, that can be exploited throughout the growing season. Design to work 24/7 as feed requirements change, the system places no constraints on labour or time, while it is also designed to work in tandem with the Lely Vector automatic feeding systems.

In operation, Exos also collects field data as it goes about its job, giving framers live data on grass supply and lending itself to a further concept of delivering a targeted liquid fertiliser as it passes over a harvested area.

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