29 September 1995

Dalgetys claim for grain default cash unjust – grower

By Philip Clarke

LEADING merchant Dalgety is being accused of breaking an agreement with a midlands grower and unfairly charging for default.

Russell Sharpe, who farms at Sherington Bridge Farm near Newport Pagnell, Beds, set up the deal last January to supply 50t of barley direct from a field to the Wolverton Mill at a contract price of £94/t – the rate at the time. As the field was only one mile from the mill and there was no storage, this made more sense than hauling it 15 miles back to his farm.

Although the contract was a standard "August" one (at "buyers option" rather than "as available"), Mr Sharpe maintains there was a verbal agreement with the merchant that he would give two days notice before delivery.

In the event, he gave Dalgety four days notice. But when the time came to cut the barley he was told that, due to harvest pressure, the mill could not take his grain until the next day. "But my combine had already been idle for four days. I did not see why I should wait any longer," said Mr Sharpe. He therefore decided to harvest it then and sell it to a neighbour.

But subsequently he heard from Dalgety that it was claiming £500 in default payments.

The company denies it had any agreement about two days notice, pointing to its confirmation notes sent out in January, which were based on standard UKASTA terms.

"The fact that the market price for barley and wheat rose considerably from January to August meant we were forced to buy cover at a very much higher price to replace Mr Sharpes grain," said a spokesman. "This and the fact that Mr Sharpe had undoubtedly sold his barley at the same higher August price led us to feel fully justified about claiming the default."

But Mr Sharpe is adamant the verbal agreement did exist and that this should be as binding as a written agreement. "It would be crazy not to insist on a notice period and risk the whole crop being ruined if the weather turned against us."

And even though he got a better price (£103/t) by selling the barley elsewhere, he had to haul it 12 miles to the new buyer and put it over a weighbridge.

Dalgety has since reduced its claim to £300, "so as to resolve the situation amicably", but Mr Sharpe is still refusing to pay. "We have yet to decide whether to pursue the default payments, but honestly feel more than justified in doing so," said the spokesman.

But Mr Sharpe is confident his case is just and says he is prepared to go to court if necessary.