FARMER groups are up in arms at a decision by Western Australian bulk handler CBH to introduce a separate segregation for feed barley desiccated with glyphosate.
While not commenting publicly on the issue, CBH has confirmed it will bring in a new segregation for feed barley with a pre-harvest application of glyphosate, a practice known as crop-topping.
The practice has been approved by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) since 2016.
CBH has told farmers the decision was made to maintain the reputation of Western Australian grain and that the crop-topped segregation is designed to minimise trade issues with countries where there is no defined maximum residue level (MRL) for glyphosate.
The largest export market for WA barley, China, is one country which does not have mandated MRLs for glyphosate in barley, meaning exports there could potentially be subject to zero tolerance to any glyphosate residue, although in practice exporters have said this is not the case at present.
It is believed discounts for the new segregation will be around $10 a tonne from feed barley untreated with glyphosate.
WAFarmers grains section president Duncan Young slammed the move.
“The China claim does not stack up as we are seeing Canadian feed barley currently going into China, at a higher price than Aussie feed barley and virtually all their crop is desiccated to get it to ripen before the weather turns cold,” Mr Young said.
“This sort of step indicates market failure and that is not the case.
“The timing is also appalling, farmers had committed to barley, it is already in the ground and people wanting to use the legal technique of crop topping as a means of minimising weed seed set are now left facing getting less for their product for no real reason.
“It is a slap in the face for growers, but also for the regulators like APVMA and FSANZ (Food Standards Australia New Zealand) who have ruled that the practice is safe.”
Mr Young said many WA growers felt the decision was about arbitraging higher end feed barley into the Chinese malt market.
Malt barley cannot be crop-topped as it must be able to germinate.
“If we are growing off-spec malt barley, not feed barley, then we should be paid accordingly.”
He said some farmers he had spoken to were looking at using alternative bulk handlers in response to the CBH decision.
“Bunge has indicated it will not discriminate between treated and untreated barley in its segregations but the problem there is it only has a small footprint.”
Andrew Weidemann, Grain Producers Australia chairman, was also steamed up.
“CBH are not supporting the Aussie regulatory system, issues such as this are why we have a regulator for farm chemicals,” Mr Weidemann said.
“What we have here is a case of the trade regulating MRLs which is not their role.”
It is not expected the CBH decision will see changes in policy for bulk handlers in other states.
Viterra confirmed it would not introduce a separate grade while it is understood GrainCorp is also remaining with the status quo.
“We are not intending to introduce a separate grade this harvest,” a Viterra spokesperson said.
“However, we have updated our Delivery Advice and Declaration Book for 2018/19 to expand the grower glyphosate declaration to all commodities which will assist in stock selection for international requirements.”
The spokesperson said residue management was done through the company’s quality management systems, which ensured it meet customer requirements.
For GrainCorp in particular there is less focus on the export market, with the majority of east coast feed barley consumed locally by the livestock industry.
This means the concerns about export MRLs could be seen as less of a priority given the majority of grain is consumed domestically.