Saturday, April 13, 2024

Grumbles about term limits as Van der Poel re-elected 

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Chair returned to DairyNZ board in election ignored by more than 80% of levy-paying dairy farmers.
‘Since I started, I knew I wanted to own my own block of land and do my own thing,’ Cameron Henderson says.
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DairyNZ chair Jim van der Poel has been voted back onto the organisation’s board. The election results were announced at the organisation’s annual meeting in Te Awamutu.

Van der Poel’s position was up for re-election after retiring by rotation. The second vacant seat was filled by South Island farmer Cameron Henderson, who was elected to replace Colin Glass, who was stepping down.

The election attracted 13 candidates from across the country and saw a voter turnout of 18.3% of all levy-paying dairy farmers and 28% on a milk solids basis.

The estimated number of levy payers on the electoral roll is 11,300, comprising all dairy farmers in New Zealand who supply milk solids to a dairy processing company. 

After the close of voting, the vote for each dairy farmer was multiplied by the number of milk solids produced by each dairy farmer.

Van der Poel said while the turnout was low, it was higher than previous years’ voter numbers. DairyNZ also plans to review the election process, including looking at ways of improving voter turnout.

“We would love to have a much higher voter participation.”

Henderson said Glass had left some very big shoes to fill.

It has been a challenging six years with farmers having to deal with so many new rules and legislation and DairyNZ has done a great job juggling this work over that period, he said.

While collaboration with other industry partners has been admirable, Henderson wants to see greater collaboration with farmers.

“There’s great communication across the industry bodies but it’s about getting back down to that membership and helping them understand the positions DairyNZ is taking, where it’s going and getting feedback from those farmers.”

During general business, Greg Mills, who chairs Hawke’s Bay dairy farming business BEL Group, asked whether the board should bring in term limits on directors to ensure continuity of people coming into those roles and prevent entrenchment.

Glass said one of the reasons he was stepping down was to bring fresh ideas and thinking onto the board. “I believe it’s the right thing after six years.”

While that was important, it was equally important to have engagement with the farmer base. The number of candidates who put their names forward for the election was unprecedented, he said.

“It’s incredibly important that those of us who have aspirations for leadership and governance put ourselves forward.”

Board member Tracy Brown said while it is not ideal for Van der Poel to remain because it goes against best practice for board governance, DairyNZ had faced a unique situation with longstanding chief executive Tim Mackle leaving and Glass, who was also an experienced director, retiring and most of the remaining directors lacking experience. 

But ultimately, it was the decision of dairy farmers to vote him back onto the board.

“It’s the farmers to vote for the directors to re-stand and if farmers thought Jim shouldn’t be in the role, they shouldn’t have voted him back in, so Jim has my support.”

Mills then requested that DairyNZ board review their rules and look to create a resolution that would mean term limits for board members.

“I don’t believe that a director of DairyNZ that has a cumulative 19 years of service is anything remotely like best practice. As a levy payer, my view is that the current rules allow for that to occur, and because the rules allow that to occur, it’s happened.

“I believe as levy payers we need a hard term limit rule.”

This would put the onus on the board to ensure continuity of leadership coming through, he said.

Van der Poel told Mills that DairyNZ’s charter has a nine-year term limit on directors – but it can be longer if the board supports it.

“We had that conversation as a board as it wasn’t my intention originally to re-stand because of the reasons you outlined.

“But as a collective board, we made a conscious decision that it was in DairyNZ’s and farmers’ best interests that I did. At the end of the day it was the farmers who decided.”

He said the board would look at strengthening those rules.

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