Fonterra’s announcement on Wednesday had at least one enthusiastic endorsement. In a press release, the Bonlac Supply Company chairman, Tony Marwood, declared the announcement a “good news story”.
The Bonlac statement was significant because BSC is the organisation charged with representing the interests of farmers who supply Fonterra and ensuring that the Bonlac agreement is observed by the global processor.
The positivity of the BSC board towards an announcement that drew outrage from farmers left Milk Maid Marian wanting to know more about Bonlac’s rationale for its support.
A big thank you to BSC deputy chairman Aubrey Pellet for answering these questions on behalf of the board.
MMM: What does BSC do for farmer members?
AP: BSC undertakes a number of representative activities for Fonterra suppliers as well as the wider dairy industry, not limited to the following;
· Negotiate with Fonterra Australia, on behalf of our suppliers, on conditions of milk supply
· Develop the next generation of dairy industry leaders through the BSC Leadership Program and Nuffield scholarship funding
· Oversee the operation of BSC Fonterra Australia Supplier Forum which provides direct farmer feedback to BSC Board and Fonterra Australia
· Represent supplier’s interests with Fonterra Australia and work with Fonterra to develop initiatives to support farmers
· Actively participate in supplier meetings, field days, industry conferences, industry forums etc.
· Actively lobby to support Dairy Farmers – such as our formal submissions and representations made on the ACCC inquiry into the Australian Dairy Industry and the Senate inquiry into the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
MMM: How does the BSC consult with farmer members and how many supplier forums have been held following the May price cut?
AP: The BSC Board (the majority of who are Dairy Farmers) consults with suppliers (both as a collective Board and as individuals), and has many discussions both formal and informal held on a regular basis.
With regards to formal scheduled meetings, there are the supplier forums (chaired by BSC and usually 3 per year) and cluster meetings (chaired by Fonterra but attended by BSC Board members) where suppliers are consulted and able to voice their views.
MMM: Why are farmers who supply milk under the Bonlac Agreement not able to read the document? If it is “Commercial in Confidence”, why is that so and how can farmers be expected to be party to a document they cannot see?
AP:The Bonlac Supply Agreement is a confidential agreement that sets out the basis on which Fonterra Milk has appointed Bonlac as its agent for the purpose of acquiring and/or arranging for the collection of milk.
It is a key commercial agreement for Bonlac that governs a significant portion of commercial activities of Bonlac and the suppliers it represents. This kind of information / agreement is not ordinarily in the public domain, nor made available for public / competitor scrutiny.
MMM: The Fonterra supplier handbook says the Bonlac agreement means that suppliers can expect Fonterra to match or better MG’s price. How has that obligation been met for suppliers impacted by the 40 cent shortfall in 15/16 who have since begun to supply a different processor?
o The opportunity is there for those suppliers who have left since May 2015 to return to supply Fonterra – and they are welcome back.
o There are always significant differences between the final average milk price received by different farmers in different regions with different calving profiles. The cash (not milk price) received by farmers from MG in 2015/16 was $5.53 as noted in MG’s annual report. The final Fonterra Milk Price for the same season was $5.13.
o The Milk Price obligation under the MSAA is at a total supply level – not at an individual supplier level – and along with Fonterra, we do acknowledge that a small minority of farmers will be dissatisfied by the approach that has been taken here.
o We worked through many different scenarios in arriving at this decision – it was not practical nor possible to have an individual scenario for every supplier.
o At an overall level Fonterra has agreed to do the right thing and make up this 40c difference.
o BSC will monitor these payments, ensuring that at the end of 2017/18 a minimum of 40c has been paid out as an additional milk price to eligible suppliers
MMM: Does the Bonlac Agreement state the terms of repayment for any shortfalls?
AP: The scenarios that have played out over the last 12 months have been unprecedented in the dairy industry, so there is no formal process that must be followed in the Milk Supply Agency Agreement that governs the components of any repayment ‘shortfall’.
MMM: How will the BSC ensure that Fonterra pays a market price for milk next year (excluding the 40 cent payment)?
AP: BSC does not have a role in determining the final price that will be paid by Fonterra – that price will be determined by Fonterra Management and a large number of market and other factors. Please also see comments in question 9.
MMM: Did the BSC seek independent legal advice regarding Fonterra’s announcement?
AP: BSC has sought and referred to legal advice throughout the events of the last 12 months.
MMM: Would you please clarify whether independent legal opinion has been received on Fonterra’s most recent announcement?
AP: The response on legal advice in last 12 months includes the current announcement.
MMM: The Bonlac Agreement does not expire until 2019. Does BSC support its continuation?
AP: The continuation of the agreement will be assessed closer to that date.
It must be acknowledged that the agreement covers a large range of milk collection related topics, and much more than a benchmark to MG.
Whilst BSC does support the agreement continuing, that does not mean that BSC supports all the components of the current agreement, and BSC will actively consult and look to put forward amendments as appropriate at that time.
MMM: BSC wrote last year that a new pricing model would be announced early this year. When will farmers be informed of the changes and when will they be implemented?
AP: I believe this reference is in relation to Fonterra providing more timely and appropriate pricing indicators to suppliers and the wider market.
This process is still underway and is well progressed with Fonterra.
It must be noted that the early announcement by Fonterra of the indicative price range for next season is part of this new model of operation – with the early announcement designed to give additional time for suppliers to adjust and respond to the Milk Price being offered.
MMM NOTE OF CLARIFICATION: The final question referred to this statement below from Bonlac’s 2016 annual report, which refers to a new benchmark rather than a new pricing model.
One thought on “Bonlac on keeping Fonterra honest”
Good questions Marian – it is just outrageous that farmers can’t see the exact wording of a contractual term which has such an impact on them. The problem with the situation is exactly proven by the comment by Mr Pellet that “the Milk Price obligation under the MSAA is at a total supply level”. Apparently farmers are just supposed to trust Fonterra and BSC about what the terms say. That’s not how it works in the adult world, or any balanced business world for that matter, especially when the past 12 months firmly show why processors can’t be trusted.
The price matching term is one of the things we will seek to have produced in court for proper scrutiny by lawyers representing farmers in the class action for farmers (http://www.adleyburstyner.com.au/farmers-farm-gate-milk-price-action).
Also, it seems off to try and describe the 40c scheme as doing the right thing”, when it leaves 2015/2016 suppliers underpaid for milk that year but at the same time gives the 40c to new suppliers to Fonterra who weren’t effected by the 2015/2016 retrospective step down. Maybe he means doing the right thing for shareholders and company profit (at the expense of farmers).
Looks more like the 40c scheme is simply about dangling cash to get more milk for next year. A bit like offering a really high opening price at the beginning of a season, like in June 2015……………….