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Australian grower row simmers at top levels

The Australian government is being urged to hold an urgent national summit to sort out the continuing row over grape supply.

Early in December South Australia giant McGuigan-Simeon came under fire when it cancelled the contracts of some 300 growers across the Riverland and Murray Valley.

Disgruntled growers have called on the company – Australia’s third largest wine producer – to come to a ‘reasonable compromise’.

Meanwhile South Australia agriculture minister Rory McEwan has asked federal ministers, wine grape industry boards and bankers to meet urgently to discuss problems of oversupply. The federal government has suggested a summit may not be necessary.

McGuigan-Simeon head Brian McGuigan has agreed to meet growers but insists he has not acted illegally. He has blamed oversupply of grapes and the slump in domestic wine sales for the problem.

Of the meeting, arranged for 24 January with growers’ delegates, he told ABC radio, ‘What it will do is to acknowledge the fact that the company respects growers, but will also bring to growers’ attention the problems that not only we but the industry generally has in handling the crops from previous vintages.’

He added, ‘We’ve acted, we believe, legally and properly,’ but said that would be put to the test if legal action was taken against them, which some growers have threatened.

Riverland Wine Grape Growers executive officer Chris Byrne said they were ‘continuing to follow the path of litigation to the point where we decide that we have a very strong case.’

Mike Stone of Murray Valley Winegrowers accused McGuigan Simeon of ‘not respecting’ growers by suspending contracts this late in the season, when it was unlikely other buyers could be found.

‘Other companies have negotiated reductions in intake and price, and others have not renewed contracts. This is the only one that has moved to suspend contracts.’

Written by Adam Lechmere, and agencies

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