2019 July: Farmer fined stored Barley – North Star (New South Wales). Pesticide: Phosphine

Australian farmers warned the misuse of pesticides will see overseas markets turn away


An industry group is warning farmers that they are jeopardising overseas markets by breaching maximum residue levels, resulting in too much chemical found on the end product.

The European Commission describes a maximum residue level (MRL) “as the highest level of a pesticide residue that is legally tolerated in or on food or feed when pesticides are applied correctly”.

It is not just grain crops that have MRLs.

All products from fruit and vegetable crops to meat can have traces of pesticides.

Paul McIntosh from Pulse Australia and the Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative said while Australia had a 98.5 per cent to 99 per cent compliance rate, it was the 1 per cent that were causing disruptions.

“It’s a big issue and it’s really starting to impact on some of our export markets, particularly for our pulse crops overseas,” Mr McIntosh said.

“The issue is we are getting picked up on [being over] our MRLs … particularly with our chickpeas and our mung beans.

“We can’t afford that 1 or 1.5 per cent, we need to get it perfect, we need to be 100 per cent now.

“If we don’t change and the crops go overseas — our clean and green image is going to be severely damaged and we are going to restrict markets.

Farmer fined for alleged misuse of pesticides

The New South Wales Environment Protection Authority (EPA) recently fined a farmer for the alleged incorrect use of pesticides on stored barley grain.

Doolin Farming at North Star was fined $3,500 after the EPA was alerted to elevated phosphine residues in a delivery to Graincorp in Queensland.

In a written statement the EPA said “it is alleged the barley grower had not complied with several requirements relating to the use of pesticides — including that the farmer was not following the directions for use on the pesticide labels, did not hold a current accreditation to use pesticide and did not make a record of the application of the pesticide.”

Srinivas Boyapalli is the Trading and Export Manager for Olam Australia, a company which exports pulses, chickpeas, fava beans, mung beans and lentils.

Mr Boyapalli said the current attention on glyphosate meant countries were taking extra notice of maximum residue levels.

“We have seen one particular issue last year with lentils, which went to India,” he said.

“The importer tested the product and it came out with a glyphosate residue limit [breach] and it was reported to the government, and then the government said the cargo had to be returned or dumped.

“It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to take back [or dump] rejected cargo.”

Calls for standardised maximum residue levels to make trade easier

However, Mr Boyapalli explained this incident was particularly difficult because India did not have a clear MRL set for glyphosate.

“When they don’t have a maximum residue level it defaults to zero,” he said.

“If it reverts back to zero tolerance it cuts out the trade … when our growers are using glyphosate here to control the weeds.”

Most countries set their own MRL, making it difficult for marketers with the levels constantly changing.

Mr Boyapalli said there is a push for each country to set a standard MRL to make it clear for agricultural marketers.

“Global Pulse Confederation (GPC) is the peak global body and it is working with all countries to have a standardised MRL,” he said.

“GPC [is also] lobbying governments and the United Nations body to accept the minimum residue level limits for all pulse commodities.

“It would be much easier for the trade because if we are sending lentils to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh — it should be the same and it would be easy to follow and easy to explain to growers what the limits are.