Archive Article: 1997/08/02

2 August 1997

IS the British Potato Council (BPC) just a watered-down version of the PMB?

ITS true that the BPC will be taking on many of the services previously supplied by the old Potato Marketing Board, and will assume many of its responsibilities, but without any regulatory powers over pricing or plantings.

But now that its members include processors, packers, merchants and traders, the Council represents the entire industry and claims to be an entirely different organisation. A fundamental change is that members are appointed, not elected.

IF the Council is serving the broader industry, will my contribution as a grower be any less?

YES first purchasers will be levied at the rate of 20p/t during BPCs first year of operation. And the grower levy will be set at £35/ha (£14/acre), both subject to Ministerial approval. These are less than the maximum allowable £40/ha (£16/acre) and 25p/t respectively.

THE BPC will presumably have inherited a register of producers from the PMB. But how will it keep tabs on the new levy payers?

THE Council has set up a register of producers based on information transferred from the PMB. It has done the same for first buyers – defined as anyone who buys or takes delivery as an agent, of 100t/year of potatoes or more, including commission agents and growers co-operatives.

Anybody already on the register will have been notified by now. Any producer or first buyer who hasnt received notice must apply for registration in writing by 30 October.

Similarly, anyone starting up in business must apply for registration within 30 days of doing so.

Penalties for failure to register or to provide returns or other information, or for making a false statement, are enforceable through the Magistrates Courts, or the Sheriffs Courts in Scotland, under the Potato Industry Development Council Order.

WHAT does the Council intend to do to help growers in this season of oversupply?

BOOSTING demand is one of the three key operational areas of the BPC. Its stated objective is "to increase consumption of British fresh and processed potato products by making our industry more competitive". This implies producing to an industry protocol covering all aspects of consumer assurance and food safety.

Meanwhile, for people to eat more potatoes, they need to be convinced of their nutritional value, their versatility and convenience. Therefore the BPC intends to build on promotional work begun by the PMB, including its ad campaign, Britains Buried Treasure.

THAT was launched back in 1991. Isnt it all a bit old hat?

MAYBE, but, according to its market research, the BPC says that the £6m spent on advertising over the past 6 years has helped the trend toward increasing carbohydrate consumption, says the BPC.

WHY has potato consumption fallen 10% over the past three years?

POTATOES still have to compete with rice, pasta and bread. While 10% is a significant drop, consumption three years ago was at a 30 year high. And although prices at the retail end fall slower than at the farmgate, low prices this season should help recover some of the lost sales. Additionally the BPC has set itself a target to increase consumption by 2%/year for its three year initial life.

Marketing activities will be aimed at growing the total market for British potatoes. That means plans for joint campaign strategies with the processors and concerted effort in the trade and catering sectors, which involves communicating with more than 400,000 outlets that sell or serve potatoes.

On the retailer front, the major multiples are an obvious target, but the independent greengrocers still play an important role, especially in early potato sales.

Overseas markets – for both human consumption and seed – will also be developed. Germany, Italy and Spain are the specific targets for high quality, added value table potatoes. The BPC aims to increase ware exports from their current level of 140,000t/year to 200,000t/year, and to increase exports of seed potatoes by 50% in the short term.

Looking ahead, while the BPC cant regulate supply, it can provide the relevant information which is needed to keep the market in balance.

WHAT will happen to all the partially-completed research projects that the PMB would have been funding?

THE transfer of assets from the old PMB means that the existing R&D programme can continue uninterrupted pending re-registration and levy collection.

Under the directorship of Mike Storey, the R&D committee will also be re-evaluating the research priorities of the industry, in consultation with, for instance, plant breeders, agrochemical manufacturers, diagnostic and software developers as well as growers.

The Council is very aware that the value of research depends on its transfer to the industry and plans to make full use of the communication channels offered by open days, seminars, roadshows, and demonstration events.

It plans to hold at least one major event every year on the four themes of harvesting and handling, planting, R&D and packing, and the seed potato business.

WILL I find BPC research reports on the Internet?

NOT yet. The Council has taken what it calls a tentative position on the net. Initially the site will be aimed primarily at consumers, with the address flagged on adverts. But ultimately it hopes to attract catering organisations, schools and so on, and to publish and disseminate information to the industry.

OF the 6.5m tonnes of potatoes harvested a year, about 3.5m will be placed in store for some period of time. Post-harvest research must be central to the industry as a whole. So whats the latest news on the future of Sutton Bridge Experimental Unit?

AGREEMENT in principle was reached at the Royal Show for the Rotagrow consortium, comprising the SAC, ADAS and Cambridge University Farm to take over management for a three year period, with an option to purchase the business. Full agreement is anticipated this month.

HOW does the Council plan to come to terms with its new responsibility for seed issues?

THE establishment of the Seed Sectoral Group was a condition of the PIDC Order. The decision of Scottish growers to disband the Scottish Seed Potato Development Council was, says Mr Walker, BPC chairman, a gesture of faith in BPCs activities for the future.

Under the chairmanship of Scottish seed producer and Council member Jim Cruickshank, the Seed Sectoral Group will enter a period of consultation before constructing standards on which to build home and export sales.

While the members of the Seed Sectoral Group are all involved in seed production and marketing, some also have ware acreage, so the requirements of the whole industry can be taken into account.

The Group will have access to resources of the BPC in marketing and R&D – to provide a strong base on which to build home and export potential.

The British Potato Council is born. Tia Rund puts your questions to the new council.

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