GRAIN growers working their way through this year’s winter crop harvest have been warned to ensure they correctly declare the varieties they deliver to the market.
In random checks of grain delivered last season, up to 20 per cent of samples were found to be different varieties to what had been declared.
This is a serious problem for grain marketers, with the potential to compromise buyer relationships, particularly in higher value markets that are based on specific varieties and quality specifications.
Industry experts have warned that compromising the End Point Royalty (EPR) system that underpins the plant breeding sector also threatens the future of variety development.
Seedvise seed and supply chain consultant Denis McGrath said variety identification testing conducted by bulk handler and plant breeding companies would be increased to help address the issue.
“The plant breeding group is putting more dollars towards testing to make sure there is equity in the system and that all growers are paying their way,” he said.
“The majority of growers are correctly declaring their varieties, but there are a few wayward ones who aren’t.”
Mr McGrath said with most deliveries now completed by casual staff or trucking companies, growers needed to ensure they passed on all the relevant varietal information to drivers to minimise the chance of mistakes.
“Mistakes do happen and bulk handlers are able to adjust their records post-delivery should a grower notice a mistake on their delivery dockets,” he said.
In 2011, NSW Department of Primary Industries senior plant pathologist, Dr Steven Simpfendorfer, assessed the varietal integrity of 20 commercial seed lots of the variety Sunvale. The results indicated that impurity (variety contamination) was common in many commercial seed lots of Sunvale.
Dr Simpfendorfer also identified a number of seed lots where the variety thought to be Sunvale was clearly not Sunvale.
Subsequent to this, after the completion of the 2014-15 grain harvest some bulk handling and plant breeding companies collaborated in a survey of growers’ wheat variety declarations.
About 400 randomly selected grain samples delivered to bulk handlers were tested using modern DNA technology to see if the correct variety was declared at point of delivery.
The result was positive overall with about 80 per cent of growers appearing to be aware of the importance of variety integrity to the future of Australian grain markets and also the importance of ongoing gains in productivity through plant breeding.
However, the disturbing discovery was the fact that the variety identification survey found that the variety declared in about 20 per cent of the samples tested was a different variety.
The survey found the chance of simple errors occurring such as mixing up seed storage silos happened more often with old varieties. Interestingly, in about one-quarter of these mis-declared samples a variety with a higher EPR rate was declared and therefore those growers paid more EPR than they needed to.
But the majority of mis-declared samples related to a grower declaring the variety to be an old variety that did not carry an EPR obligation when in fact the variety they delivered was a variety that did carry a legal obligation to pay an EPR. In these cases the growers appeared to be aiming to benefit from the investment in new genetics in the new variety without paying for it.
These same growers were also potentially damaging the reputation and integrity of Australian grain in our important markets ultimately impacting those growers who diligently and consistently do the right thing.
With the transition of plant breeding from public to private sector based on the EPR system, variety declaration is now critical to the future of variety development in Australia.