GRAINCORP has made the decision not to take Clearfield barley varieties treated in-crop with herbicides associated with the system into its malt segregations due to concerns about chemical residue risks.
The Clearfield cropping technology, which allows in-crop applications of Group B imidazole (imi) herbicides, is popular among growers as it allows a different mode of action to lower the risk of herbicide resistance.
However, speaking at this week's Innovation Generation (IG) conference GrainCorp barley manager Luke O'Connor said there were concerns with key buyers of Australian malt barley, such as Japan, South Korea and China undertaking reviews on maximum residue levels (MRLs) regarding Clearfield chemicals.
He said there was the possibility the default standard for exports to these countries could now be zero residue.
GrainCorp quality assurance manager Jason Shanley said there had been findings of Clearfield residue in grain testing, which meant GrainCorp had made the decision not to take the Clearfield varieties as malt.
Instead the two varieties in question, Scope and Spartacus, will be delivered into feed barley stacks if they have been treated with imidazolinone, the herbicide used in Clearfield barley.
Not all crops will have been treated with the herbicide, as occasionally a Clearfield tolerant variety is grown to deal with the carry over herbicide residue from the previous season.
"It's about protecting the reputation of Australian grain and to ensure ongoing access to global and domestic markets," Mr Shanley said.
Other bulk handlers are not following GrainCorp's lead.
In a statement Viterra said Spartacus and Scope malting barley varieties that have had imi herbicides applied will be received as a malting barley grade provided the load meets all other quality requirements.
"We are currently conducting our planting survey and as part of the survey we are seeking feedback on whether growers have applied or intend to apply imi chemicals to Spartacus and Scope," the statement said.
"The feedback will be used to gauge how much of the crop is expected to have IMI applied which will assist Viterra with managing stocks and meeting market access and end use customers' requirements.
Viterra will also use the survey results to determine if a declaration on imi application will be required on delivery.
Both Scope and Spartacus are accredited with Barley Australia as malt varieties.
But Mr O'Connor said with the extent of sales to China, provisions needed to be in place to ensure access to that market.
"China accounted for 68pc of malt barley exports last year and then there is the barley malted here and then exported," Mr O'Connor said.
He said even if the imi tolerance was brought down it could be managed but the threat of a zero tolerance policy was too big a risk.
"I don't think anyone wants to be the one that has sent a ship with cargo worth $20 million that is not allowed to be unloaded at the other end because of MRL issues."
It is not the only chemical product GrainCorp has concerns about.
The business contacted growers regarding the use of haloxyfop, a group A herbicide used in canola in products such as Verdict.
GrainCorp told growers that the chemical had been found in canola at levels that compromised eligibility for key export and domestic markets and strongly advised growers to stick to label instructions with the product.
On the other hand it will still allow deliveries of Clearfield wheat varieties into system.
Mr Shanley said as other varieties were delivered into the same stack there would be no concerns about an MRL breach, as opposed to malt barley varieties, which are delivered into segregations for each individual cultivar.
Brett Hosking, Grain Growers chairman, said he did not have a problem with GrainCorp's actions.
"They have been in constant communication with growers and we had heard they were thinking about it before planting, so it should not have altered planting intentions too much, especially with the narrow spread between malt and feed barley prices at present," Mr Hosking said.
"The other point to note is that they are not accusing growers of doing anything wrong in terms of their applications, it is all perfectly legal it is just that with the residue limits up in the air for those Asian nations they have decided to err on the side of caution in order to keep those markets open, which I think most growers would appreciate."
Gerard McMullen, chairman of the National Working Party on Grain Protection, the body responsible for managing post-harvest grain storage and hygiene and chemical use, said there was increasing awareness from consumers, both at home and abroad, over chemical residues.
He told Australian grain growers to get used to a future with fewer chemical options and more restrictions.
"With a lack of data surrounding some of the older chemicals when they are reviewed they are going out the door," Mr McMullen said.
In particular he said chemicals with residual effects and off-label use of farm chemicals would be under the spotlight.
Mr McMullen said there was also a trend of countries that had previously used the Codex Alimentarius international food standard had now come up with their own requirements, which was a challenge for the Australian grains industry.