West Australian potato farmers demand deregulation date as concern grows over uncertainty

West Australian Minister for Regional Development Terry Redman addresses a group of potato farmers about potato deregulation.

Potato growers say the West Australian industry has "collapsed" amid speculation over the timeline for deregulation.

A group of about 85 potato growers from Manjimup, Pemberton, Busselton and Myalup gathered for a meeting in Manjimup on February 26 to discuss the end of industry regulation and held a question and answer session with Member for Warren Blackwood and Minister for Regional Development Terry Redman.

Currently the industry is regulated by the Potato Marketing Corporation (PMC), a statutory authority charged with managing the supply of fresh potatoes in the state.

Potato Growers' Association of Western Australia president Danny Omodei said most farmers did not want to end deregulation.

But he said they had accepted that the industry would be deregulated and they were now looking for certainty from the government.

Attendees at the Friday meeting spoke about how difficult it had been to continue operating since Premier Colin Barnett flagged the end of the unique West Australian potato regulation system in April 2015.

Growers also discussed what kind of assistance package they could expect from the government once the industry was deregulated.

The growers' association commissioned an independent report from advisory firm ACIL Allen Consulting, which suggested that the government would need to provide $24 million to farmers to compensate for licenses and transition out of the regulatory model.

But many farmers are concerned they may end up with less than half of that figure after media reports suggested the state government would allocate just $10 million.

Busselton potato grower Paula Taylor said the industry had "collapsed" since the premier announced imminent deregulation.

Mrs Taylor said prices for their fresh product had fallen dramatically.

"We've gone from prices in 2013 of 70 cents/kilogram to 60 c/kg in 2014, she said.

She said 2015 looked like being 48 c/kg

"What happens next?"

Mrs Taylor said the industry was getting to be unsustainable for her and her husband, and also her two sons.

She said the biggest issue at the moment for growers was the uncertainty over deregulation.

"I don't want deregulation but we do not have a choice," she said. "We can't fight the Labor government, the Liberal government, the Chamber of Commerce, the media and the federal government. "We are going to be deregulated, [so] deregulate us tomorrow."

Marybrook farmer Vaughan Carter said growers wanted the government to tell them when the industry will be deregulated so they can plan for the future.

"It needs to be resolved," he said.

"We've done our work at our end with the ACIL Allen report.

"Growers said yes, the industry is worth $24 million and we're not willing to budge on it."

Mr Carter said the greatest concern for the industry was that "investment dollars are moving away" because growers are uncertain.