Two organic farmers from Nimbin, Andrew Bodlovich and Hogan Gleeson, invented a sustainable food production system that they hoped would help feed the world.
Now they say they risk losing 20 years of work owing to a legal battle with ‘big business interests’ that backed the technology.
Back in 2006, Andrew and Hogan demonstrated their invention on ABC TV’s New Inventors program.
Judge and agricultural expert, Chris Russell, said at the time, ‘This is potentially a very significant invention’.
Blue Farms (the trading name of Urban Ecological Systems Ltd) produce commercial quantities of organic veggies and barramundi from the same commercial sized greenhouse, essentially growing food in a closed eco-system that mimics nature, without using traditional fertilisers or pesticides.
Greg Legg-Bagg, a Byron Bay farmer, marketing exec and investor in the technology told The Echo, ‘This technology allows supermarkets to meet the high demand for organic and sustainable produce, which is experiencing double digit growth. That’s what makes it so valuable and worth fighting over’.
He says Coles Supermarkets entered into a five year supply agreement before the first commercial scale farm was even built.
‘Woolworths’ Macro Wholefoods is now being supplied. Woolworths were so impressed that they awarded a grant of $250,000 from their $30 million Organic Growth Fund.
Greg says, ‘But our licensee (now called Green Camel) has embroiled us in a prolonged and vexatious legal battle over the intellectual property (IP). Their aim is to drag us through the NSW Supreme Court to bleed us of resources’.
‘Andrew and Hogan initially built a small scale R&D farm near Nimbin, using funds from “family and friend” investors.’
Greg explains, ‘The R&D farm allowed the science of growing veggies and fish in a closed loop to be proven. It was the subject of a study, conducted through Southern Cross University (SCU), and it became the first integrated farming system of its type to be certified organic’.
‘Andrew and Hogan went on to secure millions of dollars in government grants, including the largest Commercialisation Australia grant ever awarded – $1.9m’.
‘Patents were awarded in all major markets.
‘Sydney University entered into a research partnership and provided land for a commercial scale farm.
‘But Andrew and Hogan needed investors with deep pockets to fund the new $8 million greenhouse which would prove that the technology could be scaled up to supply commercial quantities of organic produce to the major supermarkets’.
Greg told The Echo, ‘Blue Farms was introduced to a local property developer, Adam Steel, and his wealthy father-in-law, Bob Cowper’.
‘Bob was a famous Aussie test cricketer, and later part of John Elliot’s executive team at Elders IXL. Bob later brought in some wealthy mates as investors as well.’
‘Enough money was secured to establish a new business (Green Camel) that would build and operate a half hectare greenhouse under license from Andrew and Hogan’s company (Blue Farms)’.
‘The farm was built, the first crops grown, and a significant milestone achieved – organic certification. This was another industry first. The farm could now command a premium price for its organic certified produce, as well as sell fresh barramundi’.
So what went wrong?
Greg said, ‘Immediately after organic certification was granted, and completely out of the blue, Andrew and Hogan were shown the door and banned from the farm.’
‘That’s when the shenanigans started. In 2015, an unknown party challenged our patent. That challenge was successfully defended. In 2016, there was another challenge to the patent, which was successfully defended again. This time it became clear who was behind the challenges: the licensee, Green Camel’.
‘In 2018, Green Camel submitted a patent application, claiming that the technology was their intellectual property’.
‘In 2016, Green Camel commenced legal proceedings in the NSW Supreme Court against Blue Farms and Andrew and Hogan personally claiming ‘misrepresentation’.
Greg told The Echo, ‘In response, Blue Farms filed a cross claim, and sought a court order that Green Camel ‘cease and desist’ using their IP, because the original license agreement had been repudiated by Green Camel.’
‘To date, Green Camel has received many millions of dollars of funding from Australian taxpayers, via federal government grants. The purpose of these grants is to foster innovation, yet Green Camel have spent huge amounts of money on aggressive legal action against the inventors’.
The Echo put all claims by Mr Legg Bagg to Green Camel chairman, Adam Steel.
He replied, ‘Green Camel is a small company that has developed technology making it a leader in Australia in producing organic food in glasshouses’.
‘Mr Legg Bagg has expressed a number of opinions and stated facts which Green Camel considers incorrect and presents a very “one sided” version of past events. Owing to the ongoing dispute in the Supreme Court, we are not at liberty to make detailed comment. We do however, note that productive out of court discussions are continuing at present between the boards of Urban Ecological Systems and Green Camel’.
Greg added, ‘The six year legal battle has cost careers, homes, marriages and millions in legal fees on both sides. Green Camel’s case against us continues’.
‘It’s terrible that Andrew and Hogan, who are salt of the earth idealists, should have their hopes and dreams destroyed. I’m reaching out to anybody in the Shire who will stand with me in support.’
Greg can be contacted at [email protected].