Change is on the cards at the British Potato Council

COULD THE British Potato Council”s statutory levy be collected via a deduction from a potato grower”s single farm payment?

It is one option the council is exploring after being given the green light to continue following the completion of its five-yearly review. “We”re formally asking the government for assistance on how it could be implemented,” says BPC chief executive Helen Priestley. “After all, it was effectively a government recommendation in the review.”

Collection via the SFP could be as simple as the BPC giving growers names to send a bill to, which could still require chasing, or a deduction off the SFP, given directly to the BPC, she suggests. “From a BPC point of view that could remove virtually all the levy collection costs.”

 Using the SFP could save a rough estimate of 250,000 in collection costs, she says. A similar amount could also be saved by implementing a tonnage-based levy, the practicalities of which are being investigated by an industry working group.

 The downside, particularly of using tonnage levy, would be the loss of valuable market information gained from growers” planting returns, the cost of which will need to be calculated.

But changes to the levy collection method will not be made until after the overall review of all levy boards is completed, she notes. “It requires legislation change, and there isn”t going to be a change in legislation while there is a major levy board review going on.

“But it is important to feed what we want into that review to make sure the potato industry has a voice.”

As part of a strategic review of the organisation, broader cost savings will need to be looked at, including buildings and resources, she admits. “Some actions will not be appropriate until after the levy board review is completed.”

 However, that shouldn”t stop a review of the Scottish office, she says. “It is not something we”re shying away from, but we will consult fully in Scotland before any decision is made to make sure we can maintain the necessary level of engagement.”

The BPC is also undertaking a fundamental review of its R&D function, with targets and timescales to be outlined in the forthcoming 2005/06 business plan. “Government research is moving heavily into policy issues, while industry is doing more of its own near-market R&D. Are we appropriately positioning our research?”

 The review will also look at commissioning of projects – identified research priorities are sometimes rejected by the R&D committee – and why growers don”t see R&D as such a big priority as stakeholders.

Weekly pricing information could end, possibly within six months, following criticism from growers, as could rolling in-season statistics, such as estimated planting areas and expected tonnages. “Instead we would produce historical end of season statistics. Trend data, such as weekly average pricing, which is used for the futures market, will continue at least in the medium term.”

Retail activity will no longer be funded by the BPC, says Mrs Priestley. “That”s a huge change. But there is no need for us to do the retailer”s job for them.”

However PR campaigns, especially promoting the fundamental benefits of potatoes, such as health issues, taste and regional produce will continue to feature heavily.

And National Chip Week remains, despite some grower criticism. “Chips are the major outlet for British potatoes. More are consumed as chips than anything else, so because of that we think it still needs promoting.”