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Land, labour, love and institutional battles

2015-08-23 16.29.59

A piece of land for some is never just dirt,  money and dead labour. As the dairy crisis deepens and the academics,  consultants and  journalists rush forward to offer some sweetly massaged messaging they will inevitable be required to forget the institutional forms that power  them, and the wider and deeper struggle between such forms  in which they are embedded. In the case of ‘big  dairy’ this is between finance capital and the patriarchal family (and its ally the cooperative). This is a  struggle that’s been going on, around Eltham, Taranaki (picture) for awhile and famously since Chew Chong built his factories and then went bust (1).

So are we looking at  a  long goodbye to Fonterra? Organizations are but the working machinery of the dominant institutional form,  and the uneasy  alliance between what we might call the patriarchal family cooperative and managerial class increasingly doing the bidding of finance capital is a fascinating one. Currently, I think the best the family-cooperative could look to do is see off  Fonterra’s  Auckland-based NZX- schmoozing managerial cadre. What the family-cooperative wants is not  managers in glass offices in  Auckland lunching with stock brokers and investment company bosses, but sales manager on the ground in Seoul, Shanghai, Dubai, and Caracas. 

At what point did  Fonterra’s Auckland set  become the carriers of the desires of the institutional form of finance capital? Sometime during the mid 2000s. So they have ten years of unravelling to do and they are  very unlikely to hand control back to the  family cooperative  given the reputational credits they have uplifted from their  Auckland peers  – as the supposed leaders of the country’s largest company.  So they will fight.   The withdrawal of volume from the global dairy auction last week so as to push the price up by 15 percent is a neat first shot  (so clever and yet such an obvious ploy).

But the reputations that leaders chase are fantasies, or built around fantasy (which is what institutional forms offer and provide).We are never  leaders. We are carriers, and combatants on behalf of  particular institutional arrangements, whose depth and historicity is both hidden and surprising. There are  particular local hybrid forms of course, but institutional forms pay homage to deep historical  rivers of action and practices. The family-cooperative  is ultimately an alliance built around the struggle  and long demise of aristocratic  feudalism. Capitalism, as the desires of an accumulating patriarch, as Rob Bryer  (2) and others have shown,  emerges in the form of owner-operator UK farmer whose descendant is the  Pakeha farmer-settler of mid to late 19th Century NZ. It’s hard to believe that the humble family farmer doing his stock reconciliations was the historic progenitor of industrial capitalism. The family-cooperative,  which takes the organizational form of a Fonterra in our case, is however  a hybrid of this original form with some of the tensions from this birth on-board. Particularly when it  confronts ‘money’  (in NZX, investment companies and  Australian banks in our case).

So what then of Sheep Dairying as we watch the bovine battle unfold? Things could go either way. The dominant organizational form will point to the acquisitive institution that is  guiding action. Will sheep dairying be a group of cooperating family  farmers,   multiplied by a factor of 10 perhaps collectively selling their products off shore? Possibly? Or will it be a group of  finance capital-led entities cooperating only  to the point that they agree not don’t fight each other in the same market (or at least until such entities might centralized).   Hard to say at this point.

And what then of industry associations and cross-business collectivities of one sort or another? What is their  role in this drama? Surely they are  just the handmaidens of the ‘coming to dominant’ institutional form?  It is worth asking for which institutional form they are doing the  bidding? Which  ‘fantasy canopy’  or imaginary ‘night sky’, are they painting? Whose future are they imagining? Which past are they narrating,  through which rituals with what emotional effect?   Institutions! You cannot but  love these  seductive and secretive  arrangements.  But which one are we loving most?

(1) Chew Chong biography

(2). The Genesis of the capitalist farmer ‘


A look inside big scale Ewe Dairying – Waituhi-Kuratau Trust (Taupo)

The Maori TV programme ‘Kai Time on the Road’ did a fantastic job recently of profiling the Waituhi Kuratau Trust’s 3000 head Sheep Dairy operation.  Particularly it introduces the trust’s ‘Hipi’ yoghurt and showed  their sheep milk freezing operation (they sell  to cheese makers around the country and off shore). Here’s the link (or click the picture below) and to see the milking and freezing operation scroll through the video to 12minutes 26 seconds:

sheep milk freezing



Here’s William talking about WKT’s sheep milking operation  with National Radio.

Ewe Can Dairy A Massey Site