THE NEWS CBH is extending its new Paddock Planner system, requiring growers to upload paddock by paddock boundaries as well as agronomic practices including crop varieties and chemical use, has not been welcomed by some sectors of the WA grain growing community.
The co-operative giant has said the new Paddock Planner was necessary to allow it to make decisions regarding sites and segregations come harvest and it has billed it as a chance for growers to save dollars via a 50 cents a tonne discount if they used the system.
"The discount reflects the operational benefits derived from being able to provide a more effective and efficient service to growers, while enabling enhancement in productivity for growers and CBH," said CBH general manager of operations Ben Macnamara.
However, one Esperance farmer has a different take on it and said the extended Paddock Planner was effectively forcing growers, many who do not have the option to deliver to another grain receiver, to hand over an unprecedented level of on farm information to the bulk handler and grain marketing company.
"I understand why CBH wants more data from growers; this is the holy grail for everyone farmers do business with in this digital era" said Mic Fels, who has a strong interest in the collection and use of on-farm data and has a business, iPaddock, which has a number of farm management apps.
He said, however, that the scope of the information requested by CBH was 'clearly an over-reach' in terms of planning harvest logistics, when he said they already had a crop estimate declaration system in place.
"With the existing crop estimates we already tell CBH our planted hectares and expected yields of every crop variety we grow, and which sites we will be delivering them to, which is all they need to know to manage their sites and segregations," Mr Fels said.
Mr Macnamara disagreed, saying Paddock Planner helped the company get a clearer picture of the incoming crop.
"Cropping plans and estimates are essential for CBH to plan sites to meet grower demand and optimise services for harvest, which help to keep our costs as low as possible," he said.
"We're asking growers to submit their estimates through Paddock Planner as it provides a clearer picture of what is being grown and where, so we can plan more efficiently and effectively for harvest.
He said there were examples in the past where insufficient information has led to CBH making assumptions which impacted the harvest services offered at sites.
This year he said the company was asking growers to have their estimates in, using Paddock Planner, earlier than usual, by July 14.
And not all growers are opposed to using Paddock Planner.
Chris Antonio, who farms at Northam, in WA's Avon Valley, said he was planning on using the system this year.
"It took a little while last year as we had to mark the paddocks but now that is done I don't think it should be too onerous," Mr Antonio said.
He said he personally did not have any issue with the information CBH was requesting.
"I understand some growers don't think the level of detail is necessary but you have to compile the spray records anyway so, for me, I am comfortable handing down the information, especially as CBH has explicitly said it will only be used by its storage and handling division."
Mr Fels said he had concerns about a company with such a strong market share putting these type of systems in place.
"CBH have to acknowledge that as a monopoly grain handler in Western Australia, they must not cross the line of acting anti-competitively, because most growers just can't choose to take their grain somewhere else."
He added that while the CBH grain marketing arm shares its office with CBH storage and handling, there was still the potential for a conflict of interest in terms of information flow, in spite of CBH assurances there is no overlap between its storage and handling and marketing units.
An added concern voiced publically by growers and consultants in WA was the way CBH handled a string of "false positive" chemical residue tests in 2018 and 2019, with a number of growers incorrectly handed large fines by CBH, with what was described as an ineffective dispute process.
"This new level of data control is expected to reduce grower's power even further in such instances," Mr Fels said.
Mr Antonio said he did not have a problem handing over spray records as he had not had any issues with exceeding maximum residue limits (MRLs).
"This sort of stuff may help them with the imi-tolerant crops that need to be segregated separately or the glyphosate-topped feed barley, it isn't something I'm worried about."
Mr Fels said CBH definitely needed a certain level of data, but added there were things it did not need to know to make its decisions.
"We all understand that as a grain handler, CBH should have access to the information it needs to maximise the efficiency of the harvest operation."
"But this should not be used as a smoke screen to get access to a much higher level of on farm digital data," he said.
"The obvious answer is to just let growers choose whether to submit their harvest planning information using the Paddock Planner, or using the existing crop estimates process."