Commission releases final report on Fonterra’s milk price

The Commerce Commission has today released its final report on Fonterra’s base milk price calculation for the 2018/19 dairy season.

The base milk price is the average price that Fonterra pays farmers for raw milk, which was calculated at $6.35 per kilogram of milk solids for the 2018/19 dairy season. The report does not cover the forecast 2019/20 price of $6.25-$7.25 that Fonterra announced in May.

Commission Deputy Chair Sue Begg said no issues had been raised in submissions to the Commission’s draft report that warranted a change to its conclusions.

“We remain satisfied that Fonterra’s calculation is largely consistent with both the efficiency and contestability purposes of DIRA. We have not reached a view on administration and other overhead costs due to a lack of timely information from Fonterra and plan to revisit this particular issue next year. We have also retained our 2017/18 view that the asset beta that Fonterra applies is unlikely to be practically feasible.”

The final report and related information can be found here.


Asset beta

The asset beta is used in calculating the estimated cost of capital of financing milk processing operations, and in turn affects the milk price Fonterra pays its farmers. It reflects the extent to which the assets associated with processing milk are more or less risky than the stock market as a whole. A higher asset beta would put downward pressure on the milk price Fonterra pays its farmers.

The Commission’s review

Each year the Commission reviews and publishes a report on the calculation of the base milk price for the dairy season that has just concluded. The base milk price is the average price Fonterra pays to farmers per kilogram of milk solids (kgMS). The focus of the review is solely on the farm gate milk price and not any other milk price within the milk supply chain. In the review, the Commission is required to consider the extent to which the base milk price calculation provides an incentive for Fonterra to operate efficiently and the extent to which it provides for contestability in the market for the purchasing of farmers’ milk.

Purpose of the milk price monitoring regime

The milk price monitoring regime is intended to promote greater confidence in the consistency of Fonterra’s base milk price with efficient and contestable market outcomes. The regime exists because there is not yet a competitive domestic market for the purchase of farmers’ milk and the milk price is therefore set by Fonterra using an ‘administrative’ methodology. As Fonterra determines and applies that methodology itself, there is a risk that it might set a base milk price that is ‘inefficient’ – either too high or too low relative to what it would be in a competitive market. A price that is too high could act as a barrier to entry by efficient processors. The regime therefore is intended to promote a base milk price that is not too high relative to the price that would exist if the market for purchasing farmers’ milk was contestable.

DIRA review requirements

DIRA requires the Commission to conduct two separate reviews related to Fonterra’s base milk price setting each dairy season. As well as the review of the base milk price calculation at the end of each season, the Commission is also required to review Fonterra’s Farmgate Milk Price Manual (Manual review) after the start of the season. Fonterra’s Manual sets out its methodology for calculating its base milk price for the season.