By Charles Abel

POTATO growers are being urged to back the British Potato Council during its current government review, despite its failure to boost consumption and desire to leave levy rates unchanged.

A promotional spend of £3.2 million since 1997 has failed to raise potato consumption, admits BPC general manager Nigel Jupe.

But holding consumption steady while retail potato prices rose 28% last year is commendable, he says.

“Promotion is a long-term exercise, so we are looking at benefits beyond the current downturn.”

Existing marketing initiatives mean there is every chance the BPC will meet its stated target of a 10% rise in consumption by 2002, he says.

Indeed, pressure from imports, increasingly stringent quality requirements and intensifying competition among supermarkets are compelling reasons for retaining the BPC, says chairman David Walker.

Highlighting achievements in the BPCs first two and a half years, he points to the revamped collection and dissemination of market information, a campaign to slash £30m of avoidable crop waste, including the development of a novel fall-breaker to reduce bruising and damage by 20%, co-ordination of 68 research projects backed by £1.5m/year of levy payer funds and a review of the seed sector.

Plans for the future include an investigation into how UK processors can recapture market share from Dutch imports and an on-going drive to improve industry co-operation.

But despite plunging farm incomes, the BPC wants to hold levy rates at £36.50/ha (£14.77/acre) for growers and 15p/t for first purchasers, generating an annual income of £6.5m.

Cost savings of just £200,000 have been identified over the next three years.

“Growers need to look at the long-term benefits. This is a long-term business, requiring long-term commitment,” says Mr Walker.

NFU potato committee chairman Richard Watson-Jones urges growers to consider the facts rather than making knee-jerk responses to hearsay.

“The levy typically represents 1% of production costs. Farmers need to look at what the BPC has achieved and what they are going to get in future and the consequences of not paying that overhead.”

  • The government is gathering industry views on the future need and remit of the BPC until December, ahead of a levy-payer poll next March and a decision by May.