WHAT WAS the Prime Minister thinking? This is what Fonterra farmers are wondering as the possibility emerges again of a float of the co-op shares. Fourteen months after Fonterra farmers voted overwhelmingly to keep 100% control and ownership of their co-op, Prime Minister John Key has put the cat among the pigeons. During a parliamentary question-and-answer session, Key announced his preference for a float of Fonterra. However, he has since pointed out to Dairy News that the Government is not about to impose a capital structure on Fonterra. It's a personal view, he says. But the PM's preference for floating one of the country's best assets will worry farmers, especially at a time when the farmers themselves are preoccupied with TAF (trading among farmers). The idea of handing power to investors, by their purchase of units in a proposed Fonterra Shareholders Fund, could raise in farmers' minds a suspicion that there is a hidden agenda on TAF, with the Government part of the plot. For Fonterra farmers, the bottom line – 100% ownership and control – is non-negotiable. This message has been clearly relayed to the Fonterra board and the Fonterra Shareholders Council. Key and Fonterra chairman Henry van der Heyden discussed TAF during a recent meeting. Fonterra farmers now need assurance from the board that 100% ownership and control is still the bottom line. The PM's comment will raise more doubts among Fonterra shareholders about ownership issues. The next round of farmer meetings on September 25 will shed more light on TAF details, but clearly some Fonterra farmers are concerned. The Fonterra board may argue that the industry is in an election season (for director and council seats) and that no more than politicking is involved in the lobby groups popping around the country. But Dairy News believes there is genuine fear among some Fonterra shareholders that TAF could spell the end of 100% ownership and control. The board and the council must reassure farmers this will not be so. Leaving these farmers concerns to fester will not do the co-op any good.