Voters may decide spud industry future

Kate PollardCountryman

The future of WA's regulated potato industry could lie in the hands of voters at next year's State election.

State opposition leader Mark McGowan has vowed to deregulate the industry if elected, while Agriculture Minister Terry Redman has affirmed confidence in the Potato Marketing Corporation (PMC).

Price and the number of potato varieties available are key issues in the long-running political debate.

It was recently reignited in the lead-up to the release of a report into the WA domestic potato supply chain.

The 123-page report, compiled by Melbourne consultancy firm McKenna, was undertaken on behalf of the PMC.

It identified a number of issues and recommended implementing a package of 19 reforms to meet best practice within the regulated system.

Failings in the accuracy and integrity of the pack-out, where growers are paid and potatoes purchased by the PMC were revealed, along with anecdotal evidence grower returns were undermined.

Other issues identified included growing non-performing varieties, administration inefficiencies and being supply driven, focusing on supermarkets at the expense of specialty retailers.

Recommendations included issuing special wash/packer licence and a new class of merchant licence, redrafting grading standards, tightening on-farm standards and introducing minimal seed quality standards.

Accrediting potato transport companies and restructuring the PMC board were also recommended.

Potato Growers Association executive Jim Turley congratulated the PMC for instigating the review, saying it was essential in the business world to respond to change.

"There has been substantial change in consumer demand and growers are very keen to respond," Mr Turley said.

"Therefore PMC introduced this review into our processes in the supply chain and it will lead to efficiency and improve products which will lead to the sale of more potatoes to consumers."

With the corporation looking at most recommendations in a positive light, Mr Turley said steps were already being taken to implement some areas.

There are 150 potato growers in WA growing 30 varieties, of which 23 are sold through large retailers.

Mr Turley said statements that potatoes from the east were cheaper were not true and that had been proven in surveys over the past 10 years.

He added new varieties were coming on stream all the time.

"Mr Redman understands the regulated system and country people appreciate his support," Mr Turley said.

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