Grower unhappy with seed

28 Jun, 2013 02:00 AM

A GOOMALLING farmer is in a stand-off with COGGO (Council of Grain Grower Organisations) Seeds after wheat he purchased and grew for two successive harvests turned out to be the wrong variety.

The grower, who wanted to remain anonymous, purchased one tonne of Australian Grain Technologies (AGT) Mace (bred jointly with COGGO Seeds) from COGGO Seeds in April 2010, which he sowed that year to bulk up for the 2011/12 season.

The crop performed poorly and yielded 0.7t/ha so after another poor crop performance in the 2012/13 season, the grower had seed from his supposed Mace crops tested by Agwest Plant Laboratories.

The tests found the purchased and planted variety wasn't the Wyalkatchem-type Mace, but a Pacific Seeds EGA Gregory-type wheat suited to early to mid-season sowings throughout southern New South Wales and north eastern and central regions of Victoria.

Now the grower is fighting to re-coup his costs.

Despite suffering estimated yield penalties of about $53,500 in 2011 and $147,300 in 2012 (as well as $5015 spent on seed dressing) the farmer approached COGGO earlier this year to seek reimbursement for 80 tonnes of replacement seed worth about $28,000 (at $350/t).

"In 2011 we started having our doubts it wasn't Mace because our neighbours weren't having the same problems with Falling Numbers in their Mace crops and they were producing high yields (about 4.5t/ha) with low screenings," he said.

"Our crop in the neighbouring paddock, which was sown on the same day as the neighbour's, was delivered as Feed due to Falling Numbers of 200-270 and its yield battled to reach two tonnes a hectare."

Despite his doubts about the seed, the grower said he questioned whether on-farm error had contributed to the terrible performance of his wheat crops and if low pH levels (or something similar) was the cause of the problem.

The next year, in 2012, the bulked-up seed performed much the same - the crop had very high screenings and was delivered into low grade Feed stacks at the local CBH receival site during the 2012/13 harvest.

Pacific Seeds data suggested EGA Gregory was eligible for receival into the Australian Hard grade (AH) in central and southern NSW and had Australian Premium White (APW) classification in Victoria.

It was bred by the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries.

While seed-cleaning 80t of the suspect variety in preparation for the 2013 seeding period, the grower calculated his 2012/13 Mace harvest yielded 500-700 kilograms a hectare less than his Magenta crops.

His delivered Magenta tonnes also had no problems with high screenings or Falling Numbers and that's when he decided to contact Agwest for tests.

"Dozens of farmers were telling me it definitely wasn't Mace because their local Mace crops had no quality issues and were significantly out-yielding Magenta," the grower said.

"Since 2010 we haven't grown any other wheat varieties except for Magenta, Bonnie Rock and Wyalkatchem and the seed we put in thinking it was Mace, is certainly not one of those three varieties."

As soon as the lab results were confirmed in early February of this year, the grower contacted COGGO company secretary Hugh Lennerts in writing.

In the letter the grower said he still had 80t of the suspect seed which had been seed-cleaned and treated with 1.3L/t Syngenta's Dividend fungicide seed treatment.

The grower didn't want to sow the wrongly-labelled tonnes during this year's seeding period and knew they couldn't be sold as Mace back into the Wheatbelt.

"I tried to find a buyer in the South West market garden industry who might have liked to use it as a cover crop but running 10t at a time to Bunbury in bulker bags would be a big task," the grower said.

"I've still got the 80t of treated seed sitting in my silos, so it looks like it might end up in the rubbish tip."

The grower said COGGO acknowledged there was a problem and even went as far as saying the organisation had heard of it happening during the 2010 season when there wasn't much Mace seed available in the commercial market.

"I was told by COGGO it wasn't the organisation's problem and it would be up to me or the trucking company that delivered the seed to sort out," he said.

"But as far as I'm concerned, even if there was a mix-up with the trucking company, it was still COGGO's product right up until I took delivery."

The grower also said there was no batch number on the bulker bag of seed - the label simply read 'Mace'.

After Mr Lennerts refused to compensate for the 80t of seed, the grower in question found and purchased replacement seed for this year's seeding period.

But Mr Lennerts disputed the claim and said once the grower contacted COGGO about the problem he took the original delivery docket back to the seed cleaning operator who batched all COGGO's Mace into bulker bags ready for purchase and delivery.

"The seed cleaner proved to us that based on the serial number of the delivery docket, which the grower signed when he took delivery of the seed, that specific batch was tested and we have evidence to prove that it was Mace," Mr Lennerts said.

"COGGO was producing the Mace itself in that first season the variety was commercially available and the demand was much greater than COGGO's supply.

"At the time we were contracting growers to grow the Mace for us and then having them deliver it to a seed cleaner, it was then cleaned, tested and certified as Mace.

"We grew some out here and AGT grew some out on the east coast among its suppliers and other businesses it deals with.

"Orders were placed and an independent transporter would have picked it up from the seed cleaner and delivered it to the depot for collection.

"That meant various growers in WA were importing it from the Eastern States and what may have happened is that when the grower picked up his seed from the trucking depot, it may not have been a bag of Mace that we produced.

"That's the only conclusion we can draw because we have control of the process."

Mr Lennerts said he believed there might have been some alleged seed stock skullduggery in the Eastern States because Mace had a premium price tag at the time - though he said it had absolutely nothing to do with COGGO.

"We've never had claims like this made about our seed before," Mr Lennerts said.

"We did have product insurance to cover for that period but we have proof that batch was Mace.

"There's nothing I can do."

While the company COGGO Seeds still technically exists it hasn't traded in two years.

Mr Lennerts said COGGO's directors were still deciding on a direction for the one-time breeding company.

He said much like the closing down of Canola Breeders, COGGO Seeds was no longer needed.

"There are a lot of commercial companies now filling the role COGGO Seeds once did," Mr Lennerts said.

"The competition wasn't there when COGGO got involved and it wanted to provide choice to growers."

It will remain to be seen whether the botched seed matter will be taken to court.

Farm Weekly also understands COGGO Dividend Entitlement Unit (DEU) holders were supposed to receive $3 million in interim dividends at the end of 2012.

The organisation's board also resolved to pay a final dividend to DEU holders no later than April 30, 2013.

It's believed a number of beneficiaries still haven't received their full payments.

Mr Lennerts said a big stack of dividend cheques were returned to the COGGO office with their addresses unknown.

"We've been trawling through phone books and electoral roles looking for shareholders," he said.

"We don't have bank account details for direct deposits.

"There are also a lot of cheques which haven't been presented to the banks yet.

"We stand ready so that if anybody in the future contacts us and can identify themselves with their COGGO membership number we will certainly pay them their dividends."

p Have you had any problems with seed supplies this season? Email bobbie.hinkley@fairfaxmedia.c



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