9 May 1997

Potato grower refuses to hand over PMB levy

MIXED farmer Tony Sharp is refusing to pay his outstanding Potato Marketing Board 1996/97 levy, claiming the Board and its successor development council are not doing enough to promote British potatoes.

Mr Sharp, who last year grew 3.4ha (8.5 acres) of potatoes on his Cumbrian farm, says he will not pay his £147 levy. While admitting the levy is small, it comes on top of a £300 fine imposed at the county court for failure to submit his acreage returns to the PMB.

"Small potato growers are simply not getting their moneys worth. Our nearest field officer is now 200 miles away, and all we receive from the PMB and its successor body are recipe sheets that come every five weeks with some market information.

"My wife knows how to cook potatoes, and I am just fed up that prices have plunged since we decided to do away with quotas and the shops are full of foreign varieties.

"I have been growing potatoes here since 1981, but this is the first year that I have been forced to sell potatoes below £60/t," he said.

John Collins, PMB spokesman, said the council was committed to spending about £2m a year on research and development. Mr Collins warned that producers who failed to hand over the levy would be hunted down and asked, when necessary, to submit back-payments.

The British Potato Council is waiting for farm minister, Jack Cunningham, to appoint its council – expected soon – and Mr Collins said the 1997/98 levy could be on the agenda at its first meeting.

During a series of grower meetings, farmers were told the levy was expected to be about £35/ha (£14/acre), while first purchasers will be asked to pay 20p/t. &#42