MRL threat for barley growers

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Grain Producers Australia chairman Andrew Weidemann.
Camera IconGrain Producers Australia chairman Andrew Weidemann. Credit: Danella Bevis

Australian malt barley risks being locked out of the nation’s second and eighth-biggest markets this harvest unless grain traders put costly new segregations in place, after the tightening of maximum residue limits.

Japan and South Korea recently cracked down on maximum residue limits affecting Clearfield varieties Scope and Spartacus barley, slashing their limits for two imidazolinone herbicide residues from 0.10 to 0.01.

The MRL changes affect crops sprayed with Intervix herbicide by BASF, and Intercept by Nufarm, and are currently in place.

It is understood the changes were made as part of regular MRL reviews, with industry insiders telling Countryman the reductions were not consumer or politically motivated.

Australia’s barley industry is already bracing itself for a Chinese government ruling that could shut the door to the nation’s biggest market.

Industry has been waiting to find out whether the Chinese will slap a 56 per cent tariff on all barley imports from Australia after launching an anti-dumping investigation into Australian barley exports in November last year, followed by an anti-subsidy probe in December.

The Japanese and Korean MRL restrictions come at a time when Australian farmers are deciding how much barley to sow, with CBH understood to be preparing for less barley to be delivered in WA this harvest.

Grain Producers Australia chairman Andrew Weidemann said the MRL issues were likely to be resolved within 12 months, but not in time for the Australia’s next harvest.

A consortium of industry groups are leading the charge on Australian barley industry negotiations with Japan and South Korea, including Barley Australia and GPA.

“This will have a massive impact on anyone growing Spartacus and Scope barley,” Mr Weidemann said.

“If you use Intervix or Intercept in these two crops (Spartacus or Scope barley)... you will be outside the MRL for those two countries (Japan and Korea).

“I have heard it will change back to 0.10 but the reality is it hasn’t yet.”

WAFarmers grain section president Duncan Young said it was unlikely additional segregations would be added to handlers’ networks this harvest.

“A large part of the Scope and Spartacus barley crop won’t be able to go into both countries (Japan and Korea),” Mr Young said.

“So you are going to have to differentiate a stack being treated, whether it is or isn’t.

“The grain handlers may have to segregate but that is added cost to the grower, so why would you do it?”

Mr Young said he was confident the issue would be resolved, but it would take time.

“There isn’t anything growers can do or should be doing,” he said.

“We need to reassure growers that this is all fixable ... this was identified early. It is only two markets, they just happen to be very good markets.”

Mr Weidemann said growers complying with Australian MRLs could not always be assured their grain products were accepted into export markets.

Speaking more broadly, Syngenta Australasia territory head Paul Luxton warned grain handlers not to rush into segregating grain, which he said would add “an enormous rod to our back”.

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