Fruit grower and trader Seven Fields Operations Pty Ltd, trading as Nutrano, has paid penalties totalling $24,850 for alleged contraventions of the Horticulture Code, after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commissiion issued it with two infringement notices.
Nutrano is a citrus, mango and blueberry grower which is primarily located in Victoria and owns farms in Queensland, Northern Territory and NSW.
It operates large packing houses and provides additional services to growers such as grading, ripening and cool store services. Nutrano also has a presence in the central markets in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.
Nutrano operates its own orchards and packing houses, and acts as an agent for other growers by marketing and selling their produce for a commission to supermarkets, the ACCC said in a statement.
The ACCC investigated Nutrano's compliance with the Horticulture Code after receiving complaints from citrus growers regarding the lack of transparency about the price Nutrano paid them for its produce and the timing of final payments.
The ACCC alleges that Nutrano failed to specify the price it received for produce in grower statements, as required by the Horticulture Code.
"It is a fundamental obligation under the Horticulture Code that agents must be transparent about sales prices they receive, so that growers know the market value of their produce," said ACCC deputy chair Mick Keogh.
The ACCC said Nutrano's HPAs also contained clauses that the ACCC was concerned may be unfair within the meaning of the ACL, including clauses that provided Nutrano with absolute discretion to change the produce specifications.
"Growers are less likely to know the grade Nutrano might assign to their produce, and its value, if there are inadequate quality specifications," Mr Keogh said.
"It is encouraging that Nutrano has cooperated with the ACCC's investigation and has committed to rectifying the issues relating to product specifications."
The ACCC has accepted a court-enforceable undertaking, in which Nutrano committed to provide growers with updated statements for the 2022 season, stating the price Nutrano received for the grower's produce, the statement said.
As part of the undertaking, Nutrano has also agreed to implement a compliance program and review its HPAs to comply with the Horticulture Code. Nutrano has also committed to remove the terms that the ACCC considered may be unfair.
"We will continue to monitor agents' compliance with their obligations under the Horticulture Code and will look to take further enforcement action if we identify other breaches," Mr Keogh said.
The Horticulture Code is a mandatory industry code under the Competition and Consumer Act. It applies to trade between growers and traders and aims to improve clarity and transparency in horticulture trade.
Key requirements of the Horticulture Code include that horticulture produce must be sold under a compliant HPAs, traders provide growers with statements for the sale of their produce and traders publish their terms of trade.
In 2022, the ACCC updated its Horticulture Code guidance and advised the industry of a greater focus on enforcement, including in relation to a failure to provide sales prices in grower statements.
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