Doubts linger over Superfert

Jenne BrammerThe West Australian

Around 50 farmers are collectively owed $1.5 million for fertiliser they have not received, after the voluntary administration of Superfert Dongbu two weeks ago.

A heated creditors meeting held last Monday failed to reveal much further information about their plight.

WAFarmers chief executive Stephen Brown said given the company had gone into administration just weeks before, information at the Monday meeting was still scarce.

"Short term I don't think there's any ray of hope for affected farmers," he said.

Although Superfert's Kwinana-based plant still has fertiliser on its premises, farmers left high and dry have been asked to pay for the fertiliser again to take possession.

Administrator Dino Travaglini said all creditors must be treated equally and one form of creditor could not take preference over another.

Bailiwick Legal Director Phil Brunner, representing WA Farmers, said it was a particularly complex case and he disagreed that fertiliser which had been fully paid for, should be sold.

"There is an argument as to whether farmers who have paid full price for the product already own the product, even though it is not in their possession," he said.

"This is a live argument at the moment, and if it is the case (that those who had paid for fertiliser are the owners), then it cannot be sold to a third party by the administrator."

Mr Brunner said he would seek clarification on this issue on behalf of several farmers.

Mr Travaglini said the administrator was aiming complete supply of fertiliser orders and was having one-on-one discussions with farmers about whether they wished to pay for fertiliser again.

"It is quite a bitter pill for the farmers to take, but completing seeding is paramount so we are trying to provide them with the option," he said.

Although alternative suppliers are an option, growers will go to the back of the queue as these suppliers will prioritise existing orders.

Mr Brown said while there were big volumes involved, he understood very few farmers had their entire fertiliser requirements locked up with Superfert.

"Rather, it seems most farmers used Superfert for part of their requirements," he said.

Many farmers are believed to be owed fertiliser worth $30,000 to $40,000, although it is understood one grower has paid more than $140,000 for fertiliser.

Mr Travaglini said although it was early days, he hoped to arrange a deed of company arrangement that would see some return to farmers and other unsecured creditors.

It is estimated there was around $2 million to $3 million of assets, mainly in stock and debtors. The farmers' debt was part of an estimated $5 million owed to unsecured creditors. Staff are owed a further $400,000.

Meanwhile, secured creditor Korean-based Dongbu, which set up the company in 2011 with the local Beyer family, has claimed $28 million.

A creditors committee, including farmer representaives, was appointed at Monday's meeting. The next creditors' meeting is scheduled for June 18.

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