Compensation still due for potato farmer

John Morgan, who is still fighting for compensation four years after ring rot infection ruined his seed potato business, claims to be the forgotten man of UK farming.

While companies like Bernard Matthews, which was caught up in the avian flu outbreak in East Anglia, have received compensation, Mr Morgan has received nothing.

Before the disease was confirmed in Provento potatoes he was multiplying for the Dutch co-operative Agrico, he and his son Andrew, trading as Morgangrow, grew 4% of the total seed potatoes produced in the UK at Middlewood Farm near Brecon.

“It really grates that other businesses get compensation, and get back into business in no time at all, when we have done everything by the book and are up against a brick wall,” he said.

The ring rot diagnosis cost the business £1.2m. It could start growing potatoes again using specialist equipment that has stood idle since 2003, but the partners accept that no growers want to buy seed from a farm on which the disease has been confirmed.

They allege that the infection was linked to a particular Dutch grading line that later proved to be contaminated.

But arbitration and a subsequent appeal under the rules and usages governing European trade in potatoes – known as RUCIP – failed.

“Rules say that defects have to be reported within five hours even if they are invisible, and a case is null and void if the seal on the packaging is broken. How can a grower inspect a sample without opening the container, or spot what turned out to be infection in 0.4% of the tubers?” asked Mr Morgan.

“All our valid arguments relating to the applicability and reasonableness of the RUCIP conditions were ignored. There is a warning here for all UK growers who have probably never seen the 74-page RUCIP rule book,” he said.

The partners believe that government compensation can be paid once all avenues for claiming from the supplier have been exhausted. After going through arbitration and an appeal they say it is now reasonable to seek compensation from the Welsh Assembly.

Despite having spent £100,000s on arbitration, the Morgans are also considering legal action against Agrico, but have been warned that this could take between five and 10 years.