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Some farmers have indicated shifting their support from co-operatives that took such a stance ahead of the Howl of a Protest, which drew thousands of people from throughout the country.
Clarks Junction farmer Jim Macdonald wrote to Farmlands chairman Rob Hewett before the event saying he was concerned and angered by the decision, and urged a change of heart.
Staff were told if they wanted to support Groundswell the company asked that it was done independently of Farmlands "to protect the Farmlands brand". It is understood some other rural companies made similar requests to staff.
Mr Macdonald said as Farmlands was New Zealand’s largest farmer-owned rural supply company, he would have considered a show of support for those farmer owners would be a priority of the company’s board.
"These companies need to wake up. Without us they are nothing. These directors of these companies are paid large directorship fees by us, the farmer, and it seems to be for nothing.
"It will make farmers look for smaller identities to support. Don’t expect farmers now to support any of their own co-ops.
"Isn’t it one of the unique features of co-operatives that they should be operated with a focus on members’ needs?"
Members were hurting both financially and mentally and needed all the support they could get. Farmlands was not an advocacy group or an organisation which needed to "have a foot in each camp" and it should only be acting in the best interests of its members, he said.
When contacted, Mr Hewett said the company had a "high degree of sympathy" with what Groundswell was trying to do. He personally, and the company, had made an effort to build good relationships with various ministers and ministries, stretching back to before Covid-19.
"We think we are able to effect better change by dealing with them through channels we’ve earned the right to operate in."
The company was dealing with some of the same issues raised by Groundswell, "just doing it a different way", Mr Hewett said.
Farmlands had no issue with staff going to Groundswell rallies. It just did not want its brand to be "out there" and that had been made very clear to staff in communications, he said.
When Fonterra was asked if it issued a similar directive to staff, a spokesman said some of its employees were farmers in their own right and were free to support it "in a personal capacity".
"Fonterra is a business that’s built on farms passed down from one generation to the next and we see first hand the hard graft that goes into making farming more sustainable.
"We respect anyone’s right to protest peacefully. Fonterra’s focus continues to be on working collaboratively with others who care about New Zealand’s long-term sustainable future, including primary sector organisations, iwi and the Government."