Stoush over barley crop topping

Barley Australia chairman Andrew Gee says his organisation does not condone the use of glyphosate for crop-topping barley of any kind, whether it be malt or feed grade.
Nanjing Night Net

RELATED: Rules differ from state to state.

THE AUSTRALIAN barley industry is at loggerheads over the use of the herbicide glyphosate as a late season desiccant on barley crops.

Glyphosate is not registered for use as a late-season desiccant in barley due to concerns on its impact on the germination rates of malt barley.

However, in Victoria, due to the laws there surrounding off-label use of farm chemicals, farmers have been able to crop-top feed barley with glyphosate legally.

Testing of samples at delivery points has found the practice occurs extensively off-label in other states as well.

This practice has raised the concerns of barley processors and exporters, in particular in the malt barley sector.

In an attempt to cut down the prevalence of the desiccation method, Barley Australia has reminded growers labeling instructions for glyphosate do not encompass desiccant use in barley.

“Barley Australia wishes to make clear that glyphosate is not registered for late season application on barley in Australia and as such does not condone its usage in this way,” said Barley Australia chairman Andrew Gee.

He said the brewing sector was also against crop-topping.

“Major brewers have advised that they will not knowingly purchase malt made from barley that has been crop-topped with glyphosate.”

However, chairman of Grain Producers Australia Andrew Weidemann said practice was confined to feed barley and said issues had arisen because the trade was trying to make a profit out of blending malt and feed lines to sell as malt.

“The major angst is there because of the trade wanting to arbitrage feed barley to its advantage, which, frankly, is not the concern of the growers, if there is a sensitive market, don’t try and make arbitrage profits by mixing in feed barley.”

“As it stands we only advise it to be used on feed barley, we do not condone its use on malt barley until more research is done, but crop-topping is an important tool for growers.

“As such, GPA is applying to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority for an emergency permit for glyphosate use on feed barley as a desiccant.”

Mr Weidemann said crop-topping would be more important than ever this year to allow growers to manage uneven crops.

Farmers are concerned that lodged barley crops will ripen unevenly.

“There has been a lot of lodging and that has led to uneven maturation which will make it hard to get into crops which leads to the threat of heads dropping off lowering yield.”

“The other option is windrowing, but that adds another $25 a hectare or so in costs over desiccating and with feed barley prices so low it is a cost farmers can ill-afford.”

Mr Weidemann urged all farmers who crop-topped feed barley with glyphosate to declare it upon delivery.

“The industry does not want any surprises in terms of what is on the grain.”

While at present Mr Weidemann said GPA did not recommend crop topping malt barley, he said preliminary research conducted by both Birchip Cropping Group (BCG) in Victoria and the Hart Field Site Group in South Australia had been promising in terms of glyphosate not damaging the barley’s malting attributes.

“More work needs to be done, at present the findings are inconclusive but we are hopeful late-season use of glyphosate will be found to have no ill effects on malt barley.”

However, Mr Gee said before condoning the practice, even if it was found to be no risk to the malting qualities of the barley, the Australian industry had to ensure trade partners also accepted the technique, saying key export markets were too valuable to risk.

“The continued access to key export markets for Australian malting and feed barley may be threatened if widespread adoption of the practice produces residues which exceed current export market limits,” he said.

He said Barley Australia was aware of the potential agronomic benefits, but said concrete research findings there was no negative impact from crop-topping would be required before the matter was progressed.

“Barley Australia supports efforts being undertaken by the National Working Party on Grain Protection to establish a scientific review of the impact of glyphosate on barley at all stages, but in the interim growers are urged to respect the labelling instructions.”

He said testing for traces of glyphosate on samples was likely to be stricter this year.

“Some barley receivers, marketers and end users have indicated that more rigorous testing of barley delivered into storages this harvest.”

Farmer representative organisation GrainGrowers urged growers to be careful with late season herbicide applications and to consider the impact of lost markets due to exceeding MRLs.

“As the winter grain harvest approaches it is vital farmers ensure maximum residue levels (MRLs) for chemicals in grains are not exceeded,” GrainGrowers general manager of policy and innovation David McKeon said.

Mr McKeon said a number of key markets including China, South Korea and Taiwan were in the process of updating MRLs for the grain they import.

He said this could change the dynamic in terms of what particular markets will accept.

“In many cases this means that tolerances for chemicals in grain will be reduced and in some cases only grain with zero residue levels will be accepted.”

“Residue testing in some markets is also increasing in both rigour and frequency.”

Mr McKeon also said more sophisticated testing equipment could now find traces of residues at lower levels than was previously possible.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.