Potato levy to rise 9% in three years

Potato growers are being asked to pay an extra £1.17/ha in levy from next year – a rise of 3% to £40.17/ha – to help fund the work of the Potato Council.

The proposal is included in the new Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board’s corporate plan, which has just been put out to consultation. Further rises of 3% a year are also planned for 2001 and 2012.

Processors are in line for an equivalent 3% levy rise, to 17.5p/tonne, with the potato sector the only one of the six sector organisations represented by AHDB facing any increase.

Justifying the levy rise, Potato Council chairman Allan Stevenson explained that there had been no increase in the potato levy for the past eight years.

While the council had been able to live off reserves, it was now facing a deficit and had decided last year that a levy rise was essential.

The idea was put to levy payers through the Potato Council’s Direction Through Dialogue initiative and the message to come back was that “a little and often” was better than one big hit.

The extra revenue from the levy rise, will combine with savings of about £400,000/year to the Potato Council’s budget, derived from economies achieved by amalgamating of all levy bodies under the AHDB umbrella, explained Mr Stevenson.

But the extra money was needed to help potato growers meet the numerous challenges that were mounting up.

In a telephone press conference on Monday morning (23 November), Mr Stevenson highlighted the importance of R&D, to keep producers at the forefront of technology. Particular emphasis was being put on storage, with a £600,000 investment planned at the Sutton Bridge research station.

Potato Council director Sandra Ziles emphasised the role the organisation plays in knowledge transfer, explaining that every grower would get at least two invitations a year to various open events.

She also stressed the need for funds to be spent on marketing. “It’s really important we keep potatoes on everyone’s shopping lists,” she said.

The Potato Council would continue its Grow Your Own Potatoes campaign in schools and would use social networking sites and new “potato ambassadors” to highlight the health benefits of potatoes. A petition to make potatoes a “supercarb” had also been placed on the 10 Downing Street website.

Protecting the potato seed industry and providing levy payers with key market intelligence were other priorities.

To secure the necessary funding, a 3% levy rise for three years was essential. If approved by DEFRA, the Potato Council’s total income will climb from about £6m to nearer £6.5m in 2012/13. “We will be financially stable from here on in,” said Mr Stevenson.

For a comment on the planned levy increase, see Phil Clarke’s Business Blog