Farmer fails to win seat on board of Dairy Crest
By Shelley Wright
MOVES to get Staffs dairy farmer David Boden elected to the Dairy Crest board at this weeks annual general meeting failed because it was revealed that he had not submitted his nomination in time.
Mike Dowdall, Dairy Crest chairman, told the meeting that the companys rules were quite clear that the appointment of an additional director was deemed special business which had to be notified as such in the notice of the AGM. Mr Bodens nomination had not arrived in time for that.
He went on to quote from a letter he had received from Mr Boden that said his nomination did not imply any criticism of the current Dairy Crest board. Rather, the feeling of those who had nominated him was that the future of Dairy Crest, and its farmer shareholders in particular, would be best served by having three farmer directors on the companys board.
Mr Dowdall said he still believed the current structure of the board with eight directors, two of whom were farmers, was right for the size of the firm. But he said he would welcome shareholders views on the matter.
About 30 farmer-shareholders attended the meeting, and a recurring theme in their questioning was Dairy Crests relationship with Milk Marque.
Mr Dowdall stressed that his firm was Milk Marques biggest customer, and, he believed, its most loyal, buying about 80% of its milk from the farmer co-op.
Glos farmer, Martin Baber, said that in the past year four of his neighbours had decided to supply milk directly to Dairy Crest. And the firm had offered to pay their Milk Marque leaving fines if they agreed to stay with the firm for two years. "That came to nearly five figures and it seems to me a very expensive way to increase your market share," he said.
Mr Dowdall defended the position, saying that, for the benefit of all shareholders, the firm had to source its milk competitively. And there were circumstances where some of the plants needed direct supplies of milk.
Chief executive, John Houliston, insisted that Dairy Crest was not paying any more for the milk it bought directly from farmers than it would have to pay Milk Marque for ex-farm contracts. And the price included haulage, he added, after West Country producer, and former Milk Marque director, Allin Bewes, accused the firm of trying to attract producers by offering heavily subsidised transport.
Ben Kent suggested a farmer-shareholder group could be established to give producers closer access to the company and allow them to put their views across.
Mr Dowdall said he would consider the idea. But NFU milk committee chairman, Hugh Richards, said such channels were already available because the milk committee met regularly with the firm.