22 October 1999

Potato umbrella body move

BRITISH potato growers need an umbrella organisation to co-ordinate industry development, but should not expect to pay any less for it.

That is the response of the British Potato Council to a government review which could lead to a poll on its future next May.

Pressure from imports, increasingly stringent quality requirements and intensifying competition amongst supermarkets are compelling reasons for retaining the BPC, chairman David Walker said at the launch of the consultation process on Wednesday.

But it wants no change in levy rates, which currently generate £6.5m, based on £36.50/ha (£14.77/acre) from growers and a 15p/t from first purchasers. Cost savings of just £200,000 in three years have been identified.

Despite the downturn in farm incomes growers should look to the long-term benefits, stressed BPC. "Its like buying a potato harvester – growers look at their commitment to the crop and invest for the long term. The BPC levy is just the same."

Had a vote been taken last January, when prices were high, an all clear would have been virtually guaranteed, he admitted.

"We are still confident, but far from blasÇ, given the state of the industry."

Government is gathering industry views until December, ahead of a possible poll next March and a decision on the future need and remit of the BPC by May.