A LONG rumoured class action against farm chemical business FMC regarding its controversial herbicide Overwatch appears to be taking shape.
Sydney-based legal firm Levitt Robinson confirmed it was seeking expressions of interest from farmers regarding a proposed class action against FMC on the grounds that Overwatch caused damage to barley crops.
Special counsel at Levitt Robinson Brett Imlay said there had been interest in the proposal from farmers in Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria in particular, with potential participants also in NSW.
Mr Imlay said there had been widespread reports of bleaching of crops, barley in particular, and while some crops may grow out of the bleaching others look set to sustain yield damage.
"The question is who is going to pay for the damage, it is not the growers and it is unlikely to be their agronomists, who were following the information provided by FMC," Mr Imlay said.
"The next step is to see if there is a critical mass of growers who want to take action."
Overwatch was launched this year to much fanfare as a pre-emergent ryegrass control in barley, canola and wheat after achieving fantastic residual control of the problem weed in trials.
Levitt Robinson said failure to communicate with growers on the strict requirements of the product have been an issue.
"FMC's failure to steward the administration of the product and have farmers adjust their sowing systems by using a deeper planting method, have led to crop damage," Levitt Robinson said via the Class PR website.
FMC confirmed that it was aware of the move, but stands steadfastly in defence of the product and the stewardship process.
It pointed to a number of agronomists who had success using Overwatch this year.
SMS Rural agronomist Nick Zordan, Horsham, said the product had been strong on ryegrass and also bifora, another major problem in the Wimmera.
He said the key was to understand exactly where the herbicide was going to go out and to check it was suited to the paddock.
"You really need to have a good understanding of the grower's soil type and machinery they use, especially with the new chemistry in Overwatch," Mr Zordan said.
He said he had taken a pain-staking approach to ensure he was confident there would be no adverse reaction from the product.
"Communications between myself and the grower was essential to make sure we were in sync in terms of sowing depths, what their equipment could handle, soil type, and crop they were sowing.
"It's definitely not a one size fits all approach; you need to think about it more strategically," he said.
FMC said it was continuing to investigate the reports of bleaching on a case-by-case basis, although it added this process had been slowed by COVID-19 restrictions.
It said it estimated the total level of enhanced bleaching in crop at 1 per cent of the total area treated with Overwatch or less.
For their part growers contacted by Australian Community Media are as yet reluctant to comment publicly on the matter.