FRESH PRODUCE: A worker sorting sweet potatoes.
FRESH PRODUCE: A worker sorting sweet potatoes. Mike Knott BUN090216BACKPACKER1

‘Let’s put it to bed’: fruit and veg chair’s plea to markets

BUNDABERG Fruit and Vegetable Growers chairman Allan Mahoney has called for produce market bodies to accept recommendations for a new Horticulture Code of Conduct and put a long-running dispute to rest.

Farmer industry bodies BFVG and Growcom have joined forces to call out flaws in the code, which they say have allowed market agents to delay payments to farmers for their produce.

They organised a meeting with the ACCC this month where Bundaberg growers aired their grievances with the market system.

Fresh Markets Australia, the national body for wholesale produce markets, described the move as part of a “scare campaign” by Growcom “calculated to drive a wedge between growers and market wholesalers”.

But Allan Mahoney, who is both a grower and a produce buyer, described his surprise at the comments and said he would make a phonecall to FMA executive Andrew Young to try to settle the dispute.

Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers chairman Allan Mahoney.
Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers chairman Allan Mahoney. Max Fleet BUN170215BLU3

The dispute centres on the FMA’s rejection of three of the 13 recommendations presented to the Federal Government following an independent review of the Code of Conduct.

“All we want to see is the growers paid their hard earned money,” Mr Mahoney said.

“None of this would have happened if we all agreed to those three parts.”

The recommendations in contention centre on better transparency and record-

keeping with regard to the amounts agents sell produce for, and strengthening the code to introduce random audits and civil penalties for those who breach it.

In opposing the measures FMA argues it should not be held to standards that other parts of the supply chain, such as retailers, are not.

“As it is, the growers haven’t got any real protection,” Mr Mahoney said.

“We’re not asking for transparency of all goods – once the goods are sold, that’s what needs to be transparent.

“It has to be reported on the day – it can’t be done a week later or a month later.”

The dispute “has been dragged out and it has to stop”, he said.

“That’s why we want all 13 recommendations to go through.

“I’m going to be ringing Mr Young to say, ‘Let’s put it to bed’.”

Mr Mahoney said he believed growers needed to keep better records to protect themselves.

“There are instances where growers don’t want to rock the boat and (don’t speak out because) they haven’t got their own references in order.

“They need to step up too.”

Read the NewsMail’s initial investigation after Bundaberg sweet potato growers claimed they were owed into the millions of dollars by produce agents at the Melbourne markets.

One of the agents in question has since gone into voluntary administration.

Review of the Horticulture Code of Conduct

The independent review containing the 13 recommendations, by Mark Napper and Alan Wein, can be read in full here.

FMA’s opposition to two of the recommendations, outlined in the Brisbane Markets magazine Fresh Source, can be read below.

1. That the Horticulture Code be amended to remove the distinction between an agent and a merchant. That all transactions meet specific transparency requirements to be included in a revised Horticulture Code (explored further at Appendix A).

“FMA opposes this recommendation. We do not understand how this recommendation can operate. Further information is required.”

11. That the Horticulture Code be amended to provide for civil penalties and infringement notices for breaches of the Code.

“FMA strongly opposes the recommendation. The focus must be on fairness. It is viewed as anticompetitive for one part of the supply chain to operate under the threat of civil penalties while other channels do not. No such requirements exist under the Voluntary Food and Grocery Code which applies to the retail chains.”

12. That the Horticulture Code require that traders generate and keep relevant information on transactions in order to allow the ACCC to use its powers under section 51ADD of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (its random audit powers) to assess a trader’s compliance with the code.

“FMA opposes the recommendation. FMA opposes increased random audits of Traders when no such requirement applies to other competing supply chains, or under the Voluntary Food and Grocery Code.”

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