Fonterra milk price claims misleading
MOST MILK supply companies have announced their opening milk prices for 2017-18.
While there will always be some variances in the opening prices for different companies this price generally reinforces the relative strength of market price improvement.
Further reinforced by Dairy Australia in their recent Situation and Outlook report, the improved outlook for 2017-18 offers sustainably better returns with indicative prices for the year approaching $6/ kg milk solids.
Bega and Warrnambool both stated their opening price of $5.50/kg MS. Over the years both companies have been very consistent with their prices reflecting the world market, and their farmer suppliers have been paid accordingly. We can be confident that the opening prices of both Bega and Warrnambool reflect the steady upward improvements we have seen in world market prices over the past 6 months.
We have also seen the release of Fonterra’s opening price for the coming year at $5.30/kg MS, which is Fonterra’s true interpretation of the market price and reinforces the variances in opening prices between companies.
Earlier this year, Fonterra announced it was going to pay an additional 40 cents/kg MS to all its suppliers for the 2017-18 year to account for the step-down and claw back it applied to its suppliers in 2015/16.
While most Fonterra suppliers welcomed this news, there has always been concern that the 40 cents compensation payment would be marketed as part of their price for the 2017-18 year.
In a recent meeting with Fonterra, ADF was assured the 40 cents would be defined as a payment on top of their market price for 2017-18 and not actually part of the price. ADF was concerned that this compensation payment if marketed as part of their opening price to farmers, could be used to give Fonterra a perceived unfair advantage over all other companies.
We believe that companies who did the right thing by their suppliers for the 2015-16 year should not be accused of lagging behind Fonterra’s price for 2017-18. The announcement of the additional 40 cents as compensation was for the major step downs and clawbacks Fonterra applied to their suppliers during May 2016.
So, it was with considerable disappointment that we saw Fonterra’s announcement of their opening price and the supporting media release from Bonlac Supply Company. In their communications, they portrayed their opening price to incorporate the 40 cents to make the price $5.70 /kg MS, which makes them look like they are 20 cents/kg MS ahead of the compe- tition.
Not only is this unfair to other companies which are above the Fonterra announced $5.30 opening market price, but it is also misleading to all their suppliers. It is a fact that the 40 cents/kg MS to be paid to all Fonterra suppliers this year is a compensation payment for 2015-16 – and should not, at any time, be characterised as part of the market price for 2017-18.
This past year, ADF and our state member organisations have worked in collaboration with companies to develop a Code of Practice on Contractual Arrangements. Most of the dairy companies participated in the development of the Code and agreed that one of the most important elements of the Code was the need for greater transparency in pricing for farmers.
By monitoring the application of the Code with farmers, we will be able to assess whether companies are conform- ing to the transparency principals outlined within the Code of Practice.
There is a real danger that Fonterra’s current characterisation of the 40 cents/kg MS being added to their market price for the year will give the wrong signal to all farmers and other companies that transparency only goes a small way.
It is important that all dairy companies remain fair and transparent in their pricing. The inconsistencies have indicated Fonterra and BSC are not being completely transparent with their suppliers.
These types of contradictions are nothing but misleading at a time when the dairy industry has committed to rebuilding trust along the supply chain.
• John McQueen is the interim CEO of Australian Dairy Farmers.