19 October 2001

BPC faces an uphill task to win spud levy increase

By Andrew Blake

THE British Potato Council looks set for an uphill struggle persuading growers that a 9.5% levy rise (Arable Oct 12) is justified.

Describing the BPC proposal as scandalous Cheshire FW Farmer Focus writer Ian Crawford believes much more should go on promoting potatoes. "Advertising pays hands down. R & D is a complete waste of money."

The rise will go down like a lead balloon, adds former BPC member Richard Solari from Shropshire. Moving to a tonnage based levy would work better, he says. Without it continuing rises in yield and a static market mean the area is bound to decline and shrink the levy pot.

Roger Blyth, manager of Farmcares East Yorks operation at Swinefleet wants more practical advice before levy rates rise. He liked the BPC Potato Demonstration, but feels growers have to dig too hard for practical guidance.

"I want to see a fair bit more activity before they charge any more. We are already paying £14/acre and I think it ought to be more proactive." But he does not want the BPC to go. "We do not want a free-for-all."

Norfolk-based FW barometer grower Stuart Knight does not begrudge paying the current levy, but stresses the need for value for money. "With farming in such dire circumstances, if anything I would like to see the levy cut." Variety testing is a particular waste, he feels. "A lot is spent on it, but very few new varieties come through, unlike wheat. A 9%rise is too big."

The NFU is to discuss the BPC proposal on Nov 6, says Glos seed grower and potato committee chairman, Graham Nichol. He dismisses a total tonnage levy as too unpredictable.

Fellow committee member Robert Burrill, a pre-pack grower in N Lincs says the BPC does a good job. "I certainly get value for money from its price reports. If we did not have it it would leave the industry without the essential structure needed to give a bit of leverage with politicians."

A levy rise would be more acceptable if extra spending were focused on increasingly isolated processing growers, he believes. &#42

BPC LEVY REACTIONS

&#8226 9% increase too steep.

&#8226 More practical help wanted.

&#8226 NFU working group.

&#8226 Tonnage levy unlikely.

Potato growers are ahead with harvest but finding the BPCs proposed levy hike hard to swallow. Nearly half the UK crop was lifted by the weekend; little more than a third was out of the ground by the same time last year.