13/03/2015 - 13:18

Mazza questions potato corp relevance

13/03/2015 - 13:18

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State upper house member Rick Mazza has taken a leading role in the debate about the state’s potato bureaucracy, the Potato Marketing Corporation.

Mazza questions potato corp relevance
SLOW BOIL: Rick Mazza is looking for ways to fairly deregulate the potato market. Photo: Attila Csaszar

State upper house member Rick Mazza has taken a leading role in the debate about the state’s potato bureaucracy, the Potato Marketing Corporation.

Mr Mazza, a member for the agricultural region and the sole Shooters and Fishers Party representative in parliament, introduced debate last month in the Legislative Council about the board’s appropriateness for modern commercial practices.

“To me the Potato Marketing Corporation is a bit of a relic of the past,” Mr Mazza told Business News.

He said the regulator, which has very broad powers, needed to be wound down over a transitional period.

“For many (the problem is) the fear of the unknown,” Mr Mazza said.

“A lot of growers have probably had some comfort in having a little bit of a predetermined idea of what they will receive for their potatoes each year.”

But he said the corporation was ultimately stifling the industry, particularly in export growth.

If young people had an entrepreneurial spirit, Mr Mazza said, they shouldn’t face an impediment from the marketing board or the additional high capital cost of purchasing a quota.

“There was an onion marketing board, I believe, and once that was deregulated their production has increased,” he said.

“We’re a long way behind.

“There’s 1.2 million tonnes of potatoes grown (annually) in Australia and Western Australia is only producing 86,000 tonnes.”

Between 50,000t and 60,000t are for consumption, with the remainder in the unregulated processing and seed markets.

Department of Agriculture and Food data show that WA’s exports of potatoes to Indonesia were only $1 million annually, with limited information available for other destinations.

Mr Mazza noted that the domestic market entitlements, required by law to grow potatoes for local consumption in WA and sold for upwards of $100/t, were an asset on the balance sheet of growers.

He said deregulation without compensation would then potentially be unfair, and added that it would be up to the state government to develop an adequate plan.

Labor agriculture spokesman Ken Travers said potato production had not even kept pace with population growth in the past 20 years.

“In 2004, there were 154 potato growers in WA; today there are 78 growers,” he said.

“(In 1997) they were growing about 50,000 tonnes of potatoes in WA a year.

“Last year they grew 58,000 tonnes (for consumption).”

Mr Travers also argued that the industry could create jobs through exports.

“Why would South Australia be growing some 385,000 tonnes compared with our 50,000 tonnes?” he said.

The Labor Party has pledged to abolish the Potato Marketing Corporation if it wins the next state election.

Business News reported earlier this year that the state’s largest potato grower, Galati Group managing director Tony Galati, could face prosecution for giving away free potatoes due to an oversupply.

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