Farmer Bernie Perkins knows his family’s land on the Liverpool Plains and how to make the most out of its black and fertile soil.
For years he and many other farmers in NSW and Queensland have been growing the summer crop sorghum.
Used mostly for stock feed, it’s a highly profitable crop and can be planted year after year.
But, in 2010 that all changed when he and hundreds of other farmers planted sorghum seeds.
Unbeknownst to them it was contaminated with a virulent weed called shattercane. It’s changed the way they have had to farm and farmers have lost hundreds of thousands and in some cases, millions of dollars each.
Mr Perkins knew nothing about litigation funding before the class action began but now says without it, there would be no way for farmers like himself to seek compensation for destroyed livelihoods.
“Farming is all about controlling weeds. But we were actually growing a crop that was putting a whole lot of weeds into our land. It’s a problem we’re still dealing with today.”
In addition to being expensive to control, Mr Perkins says the shattercane has stopped him and other farmers from growing sorghum in constant crop rotations. It out-competes sorghum and, as a grass similar to sorghum, is impossible to control in growing crops.
“We used to be able to plant sorghum for years in a row but we can’t anymore. We have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars as a result of this.”
Mr Perkins and other farmers got together and engaged with a local solicitor, who brought in a London-based litigation funder. “I knew a little about class actions prior to this happening, but I knew absolutely nothing about litigation funders. But this would never have gotten off the ground without them. I don’t begrudge that they make a profit out of doing this as they take on all the risk.
“Farmers are also notoriously anti litigation. We just don’t have the time to take legal action ourselves, or the confidence or know how and we certainly didn’t have the money to do this either. Having the funding meant we were able to employ very best solicitors and barristers, both locally and from Sydney.