Price talks a hot potato

POTATO growers may abandon the crop this year in the the face of rising costs and low prices. Growers say they may exit the industry in favour of more lucrative and viable crops.

TFGA Simplot potato grower committee chair Leigh Elphinstone said there was uncertainty and angst among growers about what the future held. Simplot potato growers met at Deloraine last week to air concerns about the feasibility of growing next season, with current prices not offering assurance against the cost of production.

“We’re facing the highest cost structure we’ve ever faced growing potatoes,” Mr Elphinstone said. “It’s also come on the back of quite a difficult growing season.

“We’ve been working on a gross margin with Simplot over the last few years, so we’ve got a bit of an idea where it needs to be. We’ll have a clear direction on what growers are expecting,” Mr Elphinstone said.

Co-founder of Daly Potatoes Susie Daly said with current costs, before long potatoes would become unviable. “We’re all being as efficient as we can be, but farmers just can’t keep absorbing costs,” Mrs Daly said. “For us, costs have doubled, fertiliser has gone from $1200 to $2800 a tonne, diesel is through the roof, roundup is pretty much unaffordable.”

Daly Potatoes sell their produce directly to supermarkets and said while their negotiation process was different to many growers, the bottom line of food value remained the same. “Crops cost money to grow,” she said.

“If prices are lower than the cost to grow, farmers will just go towards livestock or other crops to make better money,” Mrs Daly said. Farmer Phillip Loane says he while he loses sleep worrying about the season ahead, he remains optimistic.

“I’m of the opinion that Simplot will come up in pricing, maybe not all the way to cover the full costs but I think there will be something,” Mr Loane said. “It’s definitely a worrying time, it’s understandable a lot of people are concerned as there’s been other companies that didn’t recognise the cost of production increase to farmers in their pricing. Simplot negotiations are expected to be held next month.