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Potato Plantings

Volume 932: debated on Thursday 19 May 1977

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the level of plantings of potatoes for the coming season.

It is too early to make a firm forecast of the level of potato plantings, but the present indications are that the 1977 target area of 210,000 hectares will be achieved and may be exceeded.

Why was the Minister so slow in announcing this year's guaranteed price? Does he appreciate that many farmers had already planted before the announcement? Does he further appreciate that this price is considered to fall below the general level of production costs and that most farmers have completely lost confidence in him over this?

The hon. Member will be, or should be, aware of the complications of this review as we come to the end of transition. I remind him that, as I have just said, a great deal of confidence has already been shown by the plantings to date. We are satisfied that the target will be achieved. The hon. Gentleman will be aware also of the fact that the new price is 16 per cent. above last year's level and that this takes into account costs since then.

The Minister has said a lot today and in the debate last week about the future of the Milk Marketing Board. It is of great concern to potato farmers, because they also have a marketing board. What is the future of the Potato Marketing Board?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, this matter is under consideration, but we still want to make sure that in the new régime which may follow the end of transition it is recognised that the confidence of the producer to plant the required acreage and to achieve the target at a reasonable price will be fundamental.

Has my hon. Friend recognised that many potato producers are deeply concerned about the possibility that the Potato Marketing Board might be wound up as a result of our commitment to Europe? Will he make a clear statement, as his right hon. Friend has just done on the Milk Marketing Board, that there is no intention whatsoever of doing this? If he does, it will meet with very considerable approval on the part of those who produce potatoes in this country.

My hon. Friend will be aware of the fact that we have made our policy on boards of all sorts dealing with hops, milk and potato marketing very clear. We want to maintain the essential functions which a board should pursue. As to the matter of future confidence, we have said that a price guarantee will be fulfilled for the coming crop as a whole.