2012: Farmer and helicopter pilot were fined more than $20,000 for damaging a neighbour’s tomato crop near Childers in Queensland.
FARMERS who aerial spray their crops have been reminded of the need to follow best practice after a record fine of $20,300 was handed down in Childers Magistrates Court over a spray drift incident.
Plant biosecurity and product integrity general manager Mark Panitz, from Biosecurity Queensland, urged users of agricultural chemicals to be particularly careful when using aerial spraying techniques.
“While aerial spraying is an approved method of application, the effects can be extensive and devastating if not conducted properly,” Mr Panitz said.
“The recent Childers court case is a timely reminder to both farmers and pilots to take extra caution when spraying crops with chemicals.
“In this case, the application in unsuitable conditions resulted in the off-target movement of the spray onto a neighbouring tomato crop, causing more than half a million dollars in damage.
“As a result, the defendants were fined a total of $20,300 for using two herbicides contrary to label instructions and unlicensed aerial distribution on the part of the agricultural pilot.”
Biosecurity Queensland regulates the use of agricultural chemicals and licencing of aerial spraying businesses.
“Persons using agricultural chemicals must ensure they follow all label instructions. They must also take account of any specified downwind no spray zones and ensure application is undertaken in suitable weather conditions.”
SP Exports Collapses 21 February 2012
WET weather and overspraying have been blamed for the failure of the country’s largest tomato grower, Bundaberg-based SP Exports.
SP Exports was placed into voluntary administration on Friday, reportedly owing creditors about $12.5 million, with insolvency firm Korda Mentha taking over the company’s operations at Childers, near the Queensland city of Bundaberg, and in Victoria.
At least 60 staff were terminated at Childers on Friday, while a skeleton staff have been retained to continue some harvesting.
Korda Mentha partner Ginette Muller said it is too early to say definitively what had gone wrong at SP Exports but the company’s directors had blamed wet weather and overspraying, which was the subject of an insurance claim.
“Plants were ruined by dusting and, they were contaminated and killed,” Ms Muller said. “We’ve had one offer (to settle the insurance claim) already”.
Ms Muller said the company’s directors were expected to propose a deed of company administration. There were still significant tomato crops in the ground which would require further investment to harvest, she said.
A creditors meeting will be held later this month.
The agriculture industry, meanwhile, hopes the company will be able to trade its way out of trouble.
Growcom, the peak representative body for Queensland horticulture, said it was tragic to see such a large operation in trouble.
Growcom chief executive Alex Livingstone was hopeful the company could survive.
‘‘We’re hoping that SP can trade its way out, sooner rather than later,’’ he said.
‘‘Just a couple of weeks ago there was a major glut of produce on the market.
‘‘Growing conditions along the east coast have been pretty good and that’s led to an abundance of product, and as the supply increases the price goes down.’’
Mr Livingstone said the fruit and vegetable industry has been erratic this year.
‘‘It’s up and down, it depends on the commodity, and it depends on the week and it depends on supply not only from your own area but other areas as well.
‘‘I couldn’t say it’s abnormal but in some areas people are not getting a decent return for their product,’’ he said.
SP Exports put more than 1160 hectares of farm land and four homes at Childers on the market last December as the company’s owners battled to keep it running.
In March 2011 more than a million dollars damage was caused to a crop of SP Exports’ cherry tomatoes in Childers after an alleged chemical spray drift from a nearby property.
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