28 September 2001


Crop assurance has been the bane of arable farmers lives for years. Growers have invested time and money. Now the trade and end-users must match that commitment.

This years miserable harvest and wafer-thin margins provide a temptation for corner-cutting. After all, who would notice if a few tonnes of non-assured grain were blended with an assured bulk?

So the accusations are flying. Farmers suspect widespread abuse of the system, pointing to mixed loads of assured and non-assured grain heading for the same assured destination. They question the assured status of cheaper imported grain and worry that assured stores take in non-assured grain that is later dispatched as assured.

End-users know the scheme is imperfect. Their rigorous document checks continue to spot rogue loads. But are all such loads detected?

Even scheme managers know something is amiss. One trade store was accused recently of serious abuse. But the subsequent investigation found no proof. Is that a thumbs-up for the accused, or a sad indictment of a toothless scheme?

Unless every link in the chain is above suspicion the structure is fatally flawed. Farmers have played their part, now traders and users must play theirs. Users should stand by their claims to buy only assured grain. Or they should expect to see the scheme crumble as farmers lose confidence.

Likewise, merchants must sell assured grain as assured and non-assured as just that. Loopholes, allowing them to disguise the identity of grain, must be closed.

This week Assured Combinable Crops said it had put a "ferret" into the system to check grain is handled correctly. About time too! But one man cannot monitor the entire grain chain. What the scheme needs is real teeth, so the meticulous independent checks on growers are matched within the trade.

The stakes are high. A food scare stemming from non-assured grain, passed off as assured, would be devastating. End-users and the trade should respect and match growers commitment.

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