AUSVEG, the National Peak Industry Body representing Australia’s 2,000 potato growers, has expressed its dismay at the announcement by vegetable and potato processor McCain that it plans to decommission its Penola processing plant by December 2013.

“This is just another nail in the coffin for an industry which has faced an onslaught of assaults including rising costs and cheaply produced imports from overseas, and it is hoped that all efforts are made by McCain to continue sourcing potatoes from these Penola growers and making them into chips in Ballarat,” said AUSVEG Public Affairs Manager William Churchill.
McCain has announced that 59 staff at the former Safries plant will receive a redundancy package.
“What remains unclear is how potato growers who supply the plant will be looked after by McCain if their contracts are cut,” said Mr Churchill.
It is hoped that the potatoes which supply the Penola facility will now be sent to the McCain facility in Ballarat, although this will likely create additional transport costs for growers who have to send their produce much further to process.
“We would like to see McCain outline packages to assist affected growers in both the short and long term, including logistical support to see these potatoes processed at other McCain facilities, such as the one in Ballarat,” said Mr Churchill.
Growers who supply the Penola facility only heard of their fate via the radio this afternoon.
“It is deplorable that McCain did not inform some affected growers prior to the announcement, meaning that these growers learnt of these developments over the radio.” 
“McCain shouldn’t have waited until now to tell growers who have already sown their seed for the season,” said Mr Churchill.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), imports of frozen prepared potatoes were valued at $132.6 million in 2011-12. 
“What is urgently needed from Federal decision makers is a commitment to overhauling Country of Origin Labelling Laws.  Australian consumers have a right to easily choose locally grown frozen product, supporting Australian growers, like those in Penola, in the process.”
“It’s disheartening that earlier in the year the Productivity Commission rejected the Goulburn Valley fruit growers’ application for Emergency Safeguard actions due to ‘insufficient evidence to warrant safeguard taxes’, yet we now see in a separate area of horticulture, the closure of operations due to imports which have increased thirteen fold over the last decade.”
“McCain needs to engage more closely with growers and industry in the future to ensure better outcomes for the Australian food production industry,” said Mr Churchill.
MEDIA CONTACT: William Churchill, Public Affairs Manager, AUSVEG.
Phone: (03) 9882 0277 Mobile: 0411 166 748 E-mail: