Spud industry set for big shake-up

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

The WA potato industry is in for a major shake up under ambitious plans to add variety and value to the humble spud through research and a major marketing campaign funded by growers.

The Potato Marketing Corporation is confident it can deliver strategic change in the heavily regulated industry, which is still subject to the Marketing of Potatoes Act of 1946.

A $1.8 million grower-funded marketing and advertising campaign aimed at lifting local annual consumption by 10,000 tonnes to 60,000t over the next three years is central to the plan.

The PMC is also jointly funding a three-year research project at Murdoch University aimed at improving quality, yields and adding to the variety of potatoes grown in WA.

There are 24 varieties grown in WA with 10 more being grown as part of trials aimed at meeting consumer demand.

The PMC has also called for expressions of interest for new players in the wash/packing business currently dominated by four companies as part of reforms recommended in a major independent consultant's report.

A key message from the McKinna report was for the industry to move away from a "supply" focus to a "demand" focus in becoming more commercial within the regulated structure under which the PMC controls production and sales for about 80 growers.

"It is really about bringing out the best elements of competition into the regulated system where we can do so," acting PMC chief executive Peter Evans said yesterday.

"We want to be a value-adding organisation within the supply chain and we are aiming to drive quality improvement, introduce new varieties and to grow consumption.

"We have become demand driven and part of that is working with Coles and Woolworths to deliver what consumers need."

The industry became a political hot potato during the election campaign when Opposition leader Mark McGowan said it would be deregulated under a Labor Government.

The Government, through then-Agriculture Minister Terry Redman, and the majority of growers backed continued regulation.

Major grower Tony Galati, who has rarely seen eye-to-eye with the PMC, said yesterday that it was finally moving in the right direction but he remained convinced the regulated quota and marketing system was holding back the industry.

Potatoes Growers' Association president Sam Calameri said the regulated system provided farmers with a secure income from a high value crop.

Mr Calameri said the $1.8 million raised by growers to fund the joint PMC and Western Potatoes marketing campaign showed the level of support. The Baldivis farmer said he had just moved out of carrot growing because of market uncertainty and low returns.

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