Potato farmers call for investigation into McCain’s

McCain's has been accused of ripping off Tasmanian potato farmers, and a leading agricultural group wants the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to investigate.

According to farmers who supply potatoes to McCain’s, 28 of them have been told they will not have contracts in the upcoming season, and in further breach of the growers’ collective, the fast food processor has also allegedly been negotiating lower prices with a select number of growers.

Previous potato contracts with Heinz have been negotiated by the growers’ committee, but the remaining 15 will now have to negotiate individually and sign confidentiality agreements, according to farmers.

"I think it's just a very poor way of doing business," Potato farmer Richard Bovill told the ABC.

"I think they just haven't had the courage to come out and deal with these people in difficult situations."

The industry believes the individual negotiations will force farmers into lower prices.

Graham Harvey from McCain’s told the ABC contracts are still being negotiated and collective bargaining is voluntary.

"Certainly numbers aren't final and to be quoting number of growers that have been cut and price reductions is just speculation at this point in time,” he said.

McCain’s processing plant in Smithton is experiencing less work as the demand decreases, like so many other food manufacturers in Australia recently.

According to Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association's Andrew Craigie, potato farmers are now at a loss about where to go from here.

"The ones I've spoken to are absolutely shattered," he told the ABC.

"There seems to be no rhyme or reason at why some were approached and some weren't approached, so they're left very much in the lurch that they have nobody to sell potatoes, possibly, to next year."

Sustainable Agricultural Communities’ Mike Badcock wants the ACCC to investigate the decisions, which he says are unfair.

"This is taking competition clean out of the system," he said.

"The farmers are having to sign an agreement where they will not be releasing what tonnage they get and what price they're going to get and it's splitting the grower organisations to smithereens."

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