Dirty discovery pushes Condo farmers into debt

Brett Reardon with his children Damon and Jada. Brett is out of pocket after the fertiliser shipment he organised turned out to be dirt. DGBy Dominic Geiger

The Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service has come under scrutiny this week following revelations eleven Condobolin farmers were sold 600 tonnes of Chinese dirt under the premise it was high grade fertiliser.

The farmers are now collectively out of pocket approximately $300,000 and are continuing to be charged for the storage costs associated with the dirt, which has been sitting in a Sydney holding facility since May 12.

The shipment was not inspected upon arrival in Sydney because it was separated into individual bags weighing less than 50 kilograms.

Quarantine officials have told the Condobolin agent behind the deal, Brett Reardon, that he must either pay to have the soil destroyed in a furnace near Geelong or return it to China.

Returning the soil would be the cheaper option, however Chinese officials are now refusing to accept the dirt.

The Chinese company that supplied the product has also recently disappeared from the Chinese government registered trading site alibaba.com.

Brett said he had organised the shipment on behalf of the farmers through a Canberra based fertiliser importer.

“I’d organised other fertiliser shipments through [the importer] a few years back but never through this company,” he said.

“I’d taken deposits from the farmers for 600 tonnes of fertiliser for a May delivery however two of the companies we were going through couldn’t deliver on time.

“Then we found this new company who said they could deliver in May.”

Brett said the realisation they’d been duped only came after a farmer in Parkes identified the product as dirt, rather than fertiliser.

“It made it through quarantine in Sydney because of how it was packaged,” he said.

“As soon as the farmer in Parkes realised it wasn’t fertiliser we stopped any further movements immediately.

“We’re currently being charged $3000 a day for storage of the product and Quarantine has informed us that we will need to pay for it.”

Brett estimates he is now personally $5000 out of pocket as a result of the dealings.

“I’m hoping we can get some sort of compensation for the farmers.”

Liberal Senator for NSW, Bill Heffernan, said the incident was a major breach in Australian quarantine.

“The dirt has been able to make it through customs due to the bizarre way in which it was packed,” he said.

“Whoever has supplied this soil has done it in a way that made it through the system.

“The shipment was organised through an accredited trading website, so this doesn’t say much for customs.

“Both the government and the Chinese Embassy haven’t shown any interest in this either.”

A statement from the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service said the shipment was “an unusual consignment and was incorrectly declared as a low risk product.”

“This is why it was not originally inspected by AQIS.

“Almost all fertiliser used in Australia is imported in bulk by companies which have been profiled and are subject to AQIS controls.

“When goods are seized by AQIS because they do not meet the import conditions, the importer is required to bear the costs of any treatment, including re-export.

“Future consignments from this exporter will be closely scrutinised.”

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