Spud growers fear going broke

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian
Potato Growers Association of WA president Dean Ryan.
Camera IconPotato Growers Association of WA president Dean Ryan. Credit: Bill Hatto/The West Australian.

Potato growers will not dig in for a fight with the State Government over deregulation but have warned they face financial ruin unless there is an orderly transition to an open market.

The growers have emerged from meetings in the South West saying they will work with the Government on deregulation in 2017 if it enforces laws on the planting and distribution of potatoes in the meantime.

Potato Growers Association of WA president Dean Ryan said most of about 80 growers reluctantly accepted reform was inevitable, but wanted protection from recent overplanting that resulted in prices plunging and hundreds of tonnes of potatoes being dumped.

“Most of our growers have their life savings invested in the WA potato industry,” he said.

“It is imperative that as we move through this transition phase we maintain stability.”

The PGAWA will spend the next three months preparing a submission to Government on a new structure for the industry that has operated on a strict quota system controlled by the Potato Marketing Corporation under laws dating back to 1946.

“Our expectation is that the PMC, under the direction of the minister, will maintain and enforce the regulations,” Mr Ryan said.

However, with regulation on its last legs, the threat of $5000 fines may not be enough to deter big operators exceeding production quotas. Some growers have already found it difficult to get finance to put in crops because of fears of another glut.

Agriculture Minister Ken Baston urged all growers to stick to the rules while the PGAWA and Government worked on the transition to an open market.

Mr Baston said interim support for the regulated system was crucial.

“This will ensure the industry remains stable...with grower families being able to maintain supply and financial backing from their banks,” he said.

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