29 November 1996

Grow fewer spuds next year

By Tony McDougal

GROWERS have been urged to produce fewer potatoes in 1997 in the light of a slump in domestic consumption.

Up to 6000ha (14,820 acres) above the 146,000ha (360,620-acre) guideline were planted this year, which combined with a 5% fall in consumption, has led to depressed prices.

The Potato Marketing Board has once again advised a 146,000ha crop in 1997, the second non-quota year. And PMB chairman John Heading said it was vital producers grew for identified outlets.

Speaking at the PMBs annual meeting in London on Tuesday, Mr Heading said: "We have to find balance in this volatile market. It has to come from our own, accurate reading of the market as producers and our own discipline. If we fail, we shall feel the pain."

Mr Heading was angry that producers had received little support from the Potato Processors Association, which had continued to import the equivalent of 700,000t of potatoes.

"Put your factories in Britain and we will strike a partnership with you that will profit us both. 750,000t of potatoes for processing are worth, at a reasonable estimate, £60m at farm gate prices."

He welcomed the governments support for the Potato Development Council, which begins on July 1, 1997, but said it was important for a chairman to be swiftly appointed.

Mr Heading was also critical of the failure by the EU Farm Council to introduce a lightweight potato regime. "Potato production across Europe is far bigger than rice and far bigger than tobacco, yet these commodities can boast fully fledged EU regimes, while potatoes get passed on from council to council."