Good records key when seeking compensation

You may have a dispute from time to time with an input supplier, and every now and then a significant dispute will arise that involves a lot of money. Being prepared is the best defence.

There are still farmers negotiating with suppliers over a problem with sticky fertilizer from last spring. I’ve heard the same complaint from individual producers over a large geographic area, which suggests the problem may have been with a specific batch that was widely distributed.

It’s also possible that producers were affected to varying degrees, depending upon how much of the sticky granular fertilizer they received in their pre-spring deliveries.

Producers report plugged drills because the product just wouldn’t flow properly. In retrospect, some of the producers admit they should have realized the problem sooner as the fertilizer didn’t auger in and out of bins normally.

It can be difficult to quantify losses after the fact. What’s lost time at seeding worth if you keep plugging up the air distribution system on your seeder? What’s the loss in time and fertilizer efficiency if you have to stop seeding to try and broadcast the product?

And what if your retailer and/or the manufacturer won’t admit to the problem or stonewalls on the idea of compensation?

The legal system is supposed to provide a remedy for these sorts of disputes, but unfortunately lawyers are expensive and the legal system moves slowly. However, sometimes the threat of legal action is enough to bring suppliers to the bargaining table if they aren’t taking the problem seriously.

In a widespread dispute involving many producers, some might be offered compensation while others are not. In this case, the same fertilizer manufacturer appears to be involved, but there are many different retailers resulting in differences in how producers are being treated.

It’s also possible that large farmers will receive more attention because suppliers don’t want to lose their important accounts.

In some disputes, it can be helpful for affected producers to band together to press for common treatment. Occasionally, class action lawsuits are launched. Lawyers will sometimes take on these cases for a percentage of any final settlement and may not require a lot of money up front.

Key to the whole process, whether you negotiate individually or collectively, is to have good records. When exactly did you get the fertilizer that caused the problem? Do you have photos of your plugged drill? Did you save samples of the fertilizer for analysis?

Exactly how many times did you plug? How much time did you lose? Do you have photos of fertilizer misses in the crop? Do you have any data on the yield differences?

Did you drag your retailer out to see the problem? Did you involve an independent agrologist?

Over the years, just about every crop input imaginable has had problems:

  • seed that doesn’t germinate properly or that’s the wrong variety
  • pulse crop inoculant where most or all of the rhizobium bacteria are dead
  • diesel fuel that isn’t properly formulated
  • air drills that were never set up properly or that have problematic components

Some farmers seem to be a magnet for problems and lodge a steady stream of complaints. Eventually, their complaints lose credibility. However, real problems do occasionally arise in which producers legitimately deserve compensation.

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