26 April 1996

PMB replacement plans given thumbs up by spud growers

POTATO growers have given the green light to plans to set up a successor body after the Potato Marketing Board is wound-up next June.

And they also approved, by a smaller margin, to transfer the PMBs £5.3m residual funds to a producer-controlled organisation.

More than 80% of producers voted in favour of setting up a Great Britain Potato Organisation, while 65% voted for the transfer of funds in a 60% turnout despite a last-ditch effort by PMB council member Tony Strawson to challenge the legality of the poll.

Speaking at PMB planting event, Stafford, junior farm minister Tim Boswell said the outcome was a ringing endorsement of a new organisation to take over the boards important roles. And he congratulated PMB chairman John Heading, his staff and the industry on delivering such a positive outcome. Mr Heading, said he was delighted with the size of the margin despite the challenge on the technical details of the polling procedure (News, Apr 12).

"It is clear that producers express the clear wish for the establishment of a successor body and for residual assets to be used to support the work of that body."

The assets, which take into account the sale of the Sutton Bridge experimental station and the PMB redundancy/pension payments, will pass to a trust body, with funds going to the new organisation to keep down levy payments. Interest will be spent on research and development.

But the board still faces a legal threat from Mr Strawson, who said that though he had agreed not to issue proceedings for an injunction to prevent the poll from being concluded, he had reserved the right to consider future action through the courts. He believes the NFU can adequately represent the interests of potato growers, and that surplus funds should be returned to growers.

Lawyer Richard Bullock, of Freeth Cartwright Hunt Dickins, said that although the PMB had promised to check producers replies, to make sure they had not cast too many votes on the basis of their hectarage under potatoes, he believed it was impossible. "We do not believe there is a mechanism or record by which the board can check discrepancies," he added. &#42

Junior farm minister Tim Boswell (far right) with growers at the PMB event.