5 September 1997

New lab accreditation to end grower disputes

A NEW laboratory accreditation scheme is to be launched by merchant body UKASTA, aiming to reduce the number of disputes between farmers and traders over cereal specification.

This harvest has seen an increase in such disputes, with growers accusing merchants of deliberately finding fault with samples to get out of contracts booked at higher prices.

"We do not condone sharp practice, whether by growers refusing to deliver on a rising market or by merchants rejecting loads when prices fall," says UKASTA director general, Jim Reed.

But, while there is an established disputes procedure agreed with the NFU, he believes more should be done to strengthen the trust between trading parties.

As such, UKASTA is developing its own "trade assurance scheme for combinable crops", covering areas such as haulage, store keeping and lab testing. "We must ensure that we can carry the status that the farmer achieves through to the end consumer," says Mr Reed.

He acknowledges that part of the problem is that one laboratory may produce a different test result to another on the same sample. As such, UKASTA plans a new accreditation scheme for merchants laboratories, including:

&#8226 A list of acceptable tests and equipment.

&#8226 Regular equipment calibration.

&#8226 Training for permanent and temporary staff.

&#8226 Independent auditing.

The NFU has welcomed the move. "The key is the independent verification, which is central to our own scheme and gives credibility," says cereals adviser, Jonathan Pettitt.

But the UKASTA plan falls short of requests by some farmers for a fully independent structure, with both sides getting grain tested at regional centres.

This, says Mr Reed, is unnecessary. "Some merchants, rather than go to the expense of upgrading their own laboratories to get accreditation, may go down this route anyway. But, generally, we are so far from having enough independent and consistent labs that this would not be practical in the short term."

But he does not dismiss the idea altogether. Should the UKASTA scheme not lead to a significant reduction in the number of disputes, then a fully independent alternative could be considered.

Meanwhile, Mr Reed also urges farmers to pay closer attention to their sampling methods. Sticking a five foot spear into a 50t bin will not produce a representative result, he says. But taking a sample from each trailer as it is unloaded will give a much clearer indication of the quality of the grain in the bin. &#42

Jim Reed: Aware of discrepancies in merchants lab test results.