Mike Hosking has hosted his number one Breakfast show on Newstalk ZB since 2008. Listen live each weekday from 6am on Newstalk ZB.

Mike Hosking: Deary me - what's going on at Fonterra?

This is not the first time I have posed the question, but in all questions that remain unanswered, it's almost always worth posing it again. What's wrong with Fonterra?

A couple of things are going on. One, a former board member has been legally gagged over information they have that may be confidential. This gag also applies to media who may have received some of the aforementioned info from her, and all it's led to is what they call the "Streisand effect".

That's what happens the moment you try and say "you can't look, it's top secret", the more people become interested and want to know. It's called Streisand, by the way, because she wanted to keep her house private - and suddenly everyone wanted to look at it.

Issue two: the Chinese investment in Beingmate also has farmers upset. They claim a lack of detail and information, and if you haven't followed Beingmate it doesn't matter - all you need to know is it has not gone well, and when investments head south people with skin in the game get ropey.

As a result of all of this, increasing numbers of farmers are telling Fonterra to naff off in terms of supplying milk to the co-operative. Remember, of course, it's the farmers who own the company. They have shares and if you want to supply milk you need a stake. That very model, by the way, has always been under some question marks but maybe that is for another day.

Now as to the "Fonterra" issue, why this is a big deal for all of us is because of Fonterra's size, and dairy's importance to this country's economy. Dairy and tourism are your big hitters, $12-13 billion a year. Now unlike tourism, which is made up of hundreds of thousands of people and companies and a huge slew of operators, Fonterra is one gigantic and by default enormously influential player.

You'll remember when it cocked it up in China over infant formula. Steven Joyce no less, a senior minister in the past government, set up office at Fonterra, to limit the international damage to our country.

So Fonterra goes beyond a business, it goes beyond rural New Zealand. And as such, its reputation and image is, to put it bluntly, rubbish.

Farmers are robust players, they call a spade a spade and that's why you got to like them.

They're individualists and hard workers and self-made operators, so it's possible some of the disquiet we hear would be there with anyone. In other words, there's always someone with an issue.

But what's indisputable is Fonterra's milk market share is dropping. Why? Because maybe its not just its image that's rubbish maybe farmers are over it and are going elsewhere.

Fonterra needs a rocket, Fonterra needs to be a better corporate. Fonterra needs to front and talk to all of us, it needs to be inclusive and communicative, it needs to have a better vibe than it does. It's a sitting duck waiting, if not wanting, to be hated.

Why would you want to operate that way?

- NZ Herald

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