13/07/2004 - 22:00

Reader Response - Article a blight on potato industry

13/07/2004 - 22:00


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While it was interesting reading, I was dismayed that an article written about the Western Australian potato industry by Tim Treadgold (“Propping up the potato barons” Briefcase, WA Business News July 8) failed to show any understanding of the fundamentals of the local industry or the Government’s policy decision processes.

Essentially, Mr Treadgold’s report on Oliver Kerr’s (a University of Western Australia economics student) dissertation has wheeled out the same argument being put forward by a small group wanting to deregulate the system for their own benefit.

I wish Mr Kerr well with his career endeavours, but even he must appreciate that, while anyone can argue economic rationalism, it is a dangerous manoeuvre not to consider all sides of the argument. In this instance, those issues include the consequences of net public benefit, which have been totally ignored.

In response to your three main concerns on the industry, I would like to make the following points:

Potatoes in Perth are not expensive relative to other States. Oliver Kerr’s statement that retail prices are “excessive” is based on a “strong implication” (page 47) and is not based on any actual research.

Independent research has shown that retail prices in Perth are well below the national average and have been one of, if not the lowest of any capital city for a considerable period. 

A submission was put to the Government concluding the retention of the present system resulted in a “net public benefit” to the Western Australian community. That is, when economic, social and environmental considerations were taken into account, it was concluded the system was beneficial to the entire community. 

It is an exaggeration to say all consumers believe the two major varieties produced in WA “taste awful”. Once again, the facts don’t support the claim.

Independent research shows consumers are satisfied with the nadine and delaware varieties and they are well recognised by consumers. The nadine variety is currently being grown in large quantities in South Australia and exported from there to other States.

If Mr Kerr researched the facts better he will find out there are over 30 different varieties grown annually for the Western Australian domestic market.

The 10 varieties listed in his paper are Western Potatoes’ “preferred” varieties, which enable sufficient quantities to be grown for the major retailers. The retailers restrict the number of varieties displayed on their shelves to three or four, even though there are more varieties available.

Mr Kerr has made some sweeping assumptions in his paper used for his model calculations, which are simply not supported by fact or research data.

Jim Murphy

Potato Marketing Corporation chairman


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