Cultivation/Production, New Zealand, Australia, Trade/Markets/Prices

West Australian potato crops left to rot amid flooded market and low prices

Potato growers near Pemberton in West Australia have been forced to leave more than a thousand tonnes of potatoes in the ground to rot because of oversupply and crippling low prices in that country.

Fourth-generation Pemberton potato grower Brett De Campo has ploughed in 120 tonnes of perfectly good potatoes this month and given another 30 tonnes to a Busselton dairy farmer for cattle feed.

He expects to walk away from another 120 tonnes before his harvest ends in mid May, because of a glut in the market that has worsened since industry deregulation in 2016.

WA Potato Growers Association chief executive Simon Moltoni said all growers in the Pemberton and Manjimup area, now nearing the end of their harvest, were in a similar situation, forced to waste some potatoes, as supply exceeded demand for the perishable product.

“Growers in the Busselton area are starting to harvest now, and Myalup will be early and the yields are expected to be big following the cool summer, so there are just too many on the market,” Mr Moltoni said.

Potato grower Brett De Campo 

“It’s tough to see this — to work really hard, pay staff and not make any returns at the end of the day,” he said.

Mr De Campo said the wasted potatoes represented a big chunk of his expected 2000-tonne crop, planted across 35ha.

It costs about $20,000 a hectare to grow and harvest potatoes, but Mr De Campo said he would be lucky to break even.

“It’s tough to see this — to work really hard, pay staff and not make any returns at the end of the day,” he said.

He is paid about 50-60¢ a kilogram for first-grade potatoes from wholesalers. Wholesalers sell them for anything between $1.15 and $1.20kg to major supermarkets, who retail them for $2.50 to $4kg.

Mr De Campo expects to halve his production to 1000 tonnes next year. He had already reduced production from 3000 tonnes since deregulation.

He plans will use the land for avocado trees, adding to plantings from four years ago which used funds from the potato deregulation industry adjustment package.

Mr Moltoni said many potato growers would continue to reduce plantings or exit the industry because of the tough environment.

The WAPGA was working on an export development plan centred around making the supply chain more efficient and competitive.

Report by the West Australian

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