Israeli tomato seed manufacturer Hazera and its Australian agents, Lefroy Valley Seeds, are awaiting the first day of a court case that may see the company liable for damages worth more than A$15m. Tomato growers from Queensland, Benalla and the Goulburn Valley are suing Hazera for allegedly supplying seeds infected with bacterial canker, an infectious disease which caused widespread devastation of the tomato crop throughout 1998-9.

The first hearing in the Federal Court is due to open tomorrow (2 November) and Lefroy Valley has stated that it will “rigorously defend” the allegations, managing director Ken Blackers claiming that there is “absolutely nothing to support the growers claims.” He added that if evidence had been sufficient to prove infection, he would have approached Hazera himself to gain compensation for the growers.

Bacterial canker was rampant during the 1998-9 season and experts admit that they are unsure how it could have caused so much devastation. Bernie Cummins, partner in the Geelong legal firm Gargan and Roache, revealed that he was handling eight separate claims against Hazera, however: “Proceedings have been issued in the Federal Court on behalf of a number of growers… who grew tomatoes hydroponically.”