Farmers fear that as processors offer more for potatoes, chip costs could increase.


Chips could be in short supply this summer if rains continue in Tasmania.

They’ll likely be more expensive as a result of soaring fertiliser prices and a jump in payments to farmers, a potato grower has warned.

It comes off the back of a tough year for growers, including months of “tense” negotiations over this season’s crop prices.

It is understood prices have finally been signed off at Tasmania’s two major processors, Simplot and McCain Food Services.

Win for growers

Stuart Applebee says growers have to justify their calls for higher prices.(ABC Rural: Megan Powell)

Potato grower and contractor Stuart Applebee was on the negotiating committee for Simplot, and said it had taken nearly half a year to come to a price with which both parties were happy.

Simplot initially offered an extra $105 a tonne but farmers argued it was not enough to cover the cost of growing their crop, which was about $20,000 a hectare.

“It’s not the most comfortable conversation that you want to be having … but through talking and keeping calm and keeping open-minded … we’ve come to a pretty reasonable outcome for everyone,” Mr Applebee said.

“We as growers have to be mindful of their rising costs as well, we can’t just keep putting our hand out — it’s got to be justifiable.

“Lucky enough Simplot recognised that our costs have skyrocketed and they’ve helped us be more sustainable into this next season.”

Production costs rise

A farmer stands in front of his buggy.
Leigh Elphinstone was part of the negotiating team in talks with Simplot.(Supplied: Michael Brooks)

Lead farmer negotiator Leigh Elphinstone said the discussions had gone as far as they could.

“I just continued some discussions myself with Simplot, explaining our position,” he said.

“They were paying us $75 a tonne for small potatoes, then, in light of where the industry is at at the moment and all the costs, now they’re going to pay us $275 a tonne.”

Small potatoes make up about 2 per cent of growers’ total supplied volume.

Farmers will receive an average increase of $109 a tonne on last year.

Over at McCain, which contracts about 70 growers, negotiations in light of rising input costs had also been running at length.

It is understood an agreement was recently reached.

two packets of frozen chips
Tasmanian potatoes will be in high demand after a wet winter.(ABC Rural: Laurissa Smith)

Mr Applebee said it was “just a given” that frozen chip prices would increase.

“The rising costs of everything … they’re a pretty staple sort of a diet item in everyone’s kitchen,” he said.

Heavy rain could delay planting

A large pile of potatoes.
About 210 Tasmanian potato growers support two major chip producers.(ABC News: Sallese Gibson)

In the meantime, it’s a race against the skies for McCain and Simplot’s Tasmanian growers.

With his farm protected by the nearby Dial Range in Tasmania’s north-west, Mr Applebee is usually able to start planting earlier in the year than many other farmers.

But a relentless winter has left him inching closer and closer to his deadline.

“The weather’s been quite horrendous for trying to get crops in the ground in the last couple of weeks,” he said.

He hoped he would be able to get a few hectares in by the end of the week.

When asked if there would be a shortage in January, Mr Applebee said it depended on the conditions over the coming months.

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Why is everything so expensive?

Mr Elphinstone said the price increase from Simplot was particularly welcome during a rainy season, when bad weather stunted potato growth.

“All indications are that we’re in for a very similar spring and summer to last year, which wasn’t ideal,” Mr Elphinstone said.

“I know Simplot would be hoping some get in the ground in the next few days.

“I can’t see that it’ll have an effect on the chips.”

Simplot and McCain were contacted for comment.

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