EU-wide lightweight regime greeted with mixed reaction
By Tim Relf
DISAGREEMENT as to whether an EU-wide potato regime is needed surfaced at last weeks European Potato Industry conference at Peterborough.
A "lightweight" regime was vital to prevent countries developing national policies, which distorted free trade, said Robin Pooley, chairman of Anglian Produce.
Despite being such an important crop, potato growers had been the "forgotten farmers of Europe", he told delegates at the Agra Europe event.
A scheme could be introduced under the next British presidency of the EU, which starts next January, suggested Mr Pooley.
But others were less enthusiastic. Alan Owens, managing director of Greenvale Produce, said that while milk quota and set-aside had been successful, the proposed lightweight potato regime represented a "halfway house" which had the danger of being widened at a later date.
Fenmarc Produces Stuart Edwards said: "There is already talk of common grading standards and in some of the more optimistic countries, dreams of intervention and support buying."
But Russell Mildon of the European Commission said that, although a lightweight regime could involve a research fund, there was no prospect of direct income support for potatoes.
The Irish presidency had tried to breath life into the regime last November. "But the proposal sank faster than the The Titanic.
"At present the terms of competition between member states are poorly understood and advantage some at the expense of others."
So there was a need for a regime. And if it were not established in the next few years, it would become inevitable with the accession of central and eastern Europe.
• The potato industries of central and eastern Europe will change greatly before accession, said Jadwiga Seremak-Bulge of Polands Institute of Agriculture and Food Economy.
Polands industry is fragmented with almost half the crop grown on farms smaller than 5ha (12ha).
Even so, the country is the biggest European producer of potatoes at around 25m tonnes a year.
Last year, 1.5m ha (3.7m acres) of the crop was planted. By 2005, however, the area grown may have decreased to 700,000ha (1.7m acres), yielding about 15m tonnes. And foreign trade will greatly increase, allowing the country to become a significant exporter.
Stuart Edwards: Not sure a potato support regime would be so lightweight.