Merger announcement expected today

Don McFarlane
Don McFarlane
CRT chairman Don McFarlane might be feeling ''a lot more confident now'' than at the start of the proposed Farmlands merger process but, as he acknowledges, the final decision rests with shareholders.

Both CRT and Farmlands are holding shareholder meetings today, in Christchurch and Hamilton respectively, and an announcement is expected later this afternoon.

A merger would create a $2 billion turnover farming group, according to numbers included in both co-operatives' annual results.

A series of meetings were held recently throughout the South Island where shareholders could ask questions or seek details they felt they did not have.

Turnout was ''remarkably good'' considering it was a busy time for farmers and the general questions and involvement of shareholders was encouraging, Mr McFarlane said.

As expected, the discussion covered a lot of topics, including operational areas which was understandable, given there was ''people coming together''.

One topic the company had talked about ''at some length'' was the importance of being proactive; not only looking at the projected savings but the opportunities in the future that a strong national farmer-owned co-operative could achieve. That was something that could never be fully quantified, he said.

The company had spoken about the strength that had come from previous mergers, particularly in the South Island, and also contrasted it with what had happened in Australia ''where the Australian farmer has largely lost control and influence in his industry''.

Last month, two Farmlands directors, Charlie Pedersen and Hugh Ritchie, resigned over the proposal, saying they did not believe it was in the best interest of members.

The ensuing publicity had been useful, in that shareholders had asked about the issues that the two former directors had raised and it had also resulted in a better turnout at meetings, he said.

Generally, Mr McFarlane said, there had been ''pretty good support'' but it was going to take shareholders of both co-operatives to vote in favour of it.

A 75% threshold was required and, if shareholders voted in favour of it, the merger would be considered effective as of March 1.

The merged society would be called Farmlands Co-operative Society Ltd and the board would initially be chaired by Lachie Johnstone, with Mr McFarlane as deputy chairman. Mr Johnstone joined the Farmlands board in 2000 and has been chairman since 2003. He worked as an accountant before moving on to the family farm in the Waikato, which expanded to 935ha involving an intensive bull beef system, breeding ewes and tradingcattle.

He is managing director and shareholder of a chilled and frozen food logistics company Wholesale Frozen Foods Ltd.

Mr McFarlane has directorships with Clough Holdings/Duncan Ag, Moeraki Ltd, the New Zealand Honey Co-operative and Presbyterian Support South Canterbury. He chairs the South Canterbury Irrigation Trust which, in partnership with Meridian Energy, has consents to irrigate 35,000ha in the Hunter Downs scheme.

Mr McFarlane, his wife Di and son Hamish farm 575ha near Temuka, producing carrots, potatoes, cereals, grass seed and blackcurrants. Dairy cattle are grazed, together with lamb finishing.

Brent Esler has been selected as the chief executive-designate for the society. He has been chief executive of CRT since 2004.

- sally.rae@odt.co.nz

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