Spuds deal sealed

A MAJOR change is on the way for growers who supply potatoes to one of the state’s major processors.

The McCain processing potato committee has recently completed discussions with the company over prices and conditions for the upcoming season.

In a big change for growers, the committee has brokered a deal that includes a shift to supply contracts based on crop area rather than on tonnages.

It is the first time McCain growers will have access to area-based contracts and committee chairman Beau Gooch said it would have a number of benefits.

“With area-based contracts it means the company will basically take every potato that’s grown in that crop,” Mr Gooch said.
“With the tonnage contracts we had concerns that for growers that had very good yielding crops there was the potential for them to be penalised for oversupply.”

The committee also managed to secure a $9.50 a tonne price increase that will see the base price increase to $351 a tonne.

Mr Gooch said McCain was also looking to boost its crop intake significantly this year from 80,000 tonnes to about 110,000 tonnes.

He said while the negotiations had been difficult, the committee was pleased with the outcome.
However, he said despite the positives, the year ahead could be tough for growers.

“I think the next season will be very challenging for potato growers because the shortage of labour is a big issue,” he said.
“A lot of people just got through this year, but it will be worse next year. With the increase in tonnes as well, we just don’t know if there will be enough trucks and people to drive them and gear to get it done.”

Negotiations between Simplot and its potato growers are yet to be finalised.

Simplot grower committee chairman Trevor Hall said they would also look for a price increase to help offset spiralling costs including fertiliser prices, which are hitting record levels.

Mr Hall said a price lift would be necessary to help cover risks for growers and to provide a reasonable return on investment.

Harvesting of this year’s processing potato crop is almost complete and the drier-than-average autumn and early winter proved just what potato growers were hoping for.

After a disastrous season last year when extremely wet conditions caused crop losses, Mr Gooch said many growers were relieved to see this year’s crop out of the ground.

Jo Tubb, agriculture manager for Simplot’s Ulverstone plant, said despite a wet and cool summer crops had fared well.

“It is a relief and it’s a big contrast this year compared to last year,” she said.
“We’re very lucky it’s actually been quite smooth compared to last season.”

Simplot grew about 300,000 tonnes of potatoes across the state this year.

Ms Tubb said the quality had also improved significantly, which meant better results for potatoes going into storage.

Mr Hall said it had been a relatively smooth harvest in contrast to last year.

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