Tensions boil over as spud prices smashed

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian
Spudshed Fresh Food Market owner Tony Galati.
Camera IconSpudshed Fresh Food Market owner Tony Galati. Credit: Gerald Moscarda/The West Australian

Spudshed owner Tony Galati and WA's potato industry regulator look set for another showdown as rival growers call for strong action over a glut in supply which has prices plunging.

The Potato Growers' Association of WA is boiling over alleged overplanting in the heavily regulated industry as prices drop to less than 50�/kg in some outlets.

It has asked the Potato Marketing Corporation to use the full extent of its powers under State legislation dating back to 1946 to ensure Mr Galati and a handful of other key operators stick to a quota system designed to keep a lid on potato production.

Mr Galati said yesterday that he had not overplanted. He said the glut in supply was the result of better-than-expected yields in WA and slow consumer demand for potatoes.

An Economic Regulation Authority report released last year called for deregulation of the industry, but the State Government put the political hot potato in the too-hard basket until after the next election.

During campaigning for the Vasse by-election, Premier Colin Barnett assured growers the existing potato marketing structure would remain in place for this term of government, despite the ERA's findings.

The latest dispute comes 18 months after Mr Galati and the PMC signed a confidential agreement supposed to resolve all outstanding issues between them after years of court battles he estimated had cost him millions of dollars in legal fees and lost income.

PGAWA president Dean Ryan said regulation was great for growers and consumers when it worked properly under the Marketing of Potatoes Act of 1946, but the system was in danger of breaking down if quotas were not enforced.

"It is subject to an Act of Parliament," he said. "There are rules and the PMC is obliged to uphold those rules under the Act. That is how it is.

"If they don't, growers can only accept lower prices for their potatoes for so long before they say, 'well, we will go and do something else'.

"It is an expensive crop to grow, it is a lot of work and it is pretty stressful because the supermarkets want quality inside the potato, quality on the skins and they have to taste good."

PMC acting chief executive Peter Evans was unavailable for comment, but Mr Galati said the corporation should encourage WA consumers to eat more potatoes to deal with the oversupply.

Mr Galati said he was confident there would be no repeat of attempts to prosecute him in the courts on charges of growing too many potatoes.

"I don't think they want to go down that track," he said.

"There is a bit of a glut in supply but it is not due to overplanting. It is due to the high yields and lack of demand for potatoes in the marketplace."

Mr Galati, who is allowed to produce about 6000 tonnes of potatoes a year under the quota system, said yields were up 50 per cent on some of his farms after a favourable growing season.

'There are rules and the PMC is obliged to uphold those rules under the Act.' " Potato Growers' Association of WA president *Dean Ryan *

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