With a record turnout of over 6,000, BP2011 (Harrogate) the potato industry demonstrated its confidence in the future. Ever keen to discover ways of working smarter, levy-payers showed great interest in the cost-benefit analyses undertaken by Potato Council.
“In spring 2011 we introduced a new objective to each of the Potato Council functions to undertake cost benefit analysis for some of our work,” explained Potato Council director Dr Rob Clayton. “Far from being a trumpet-blowing exercise, the project was designed to develop a deeper financial understanding within our team and for our colleagues to assume much more of a custodial attitude to spending the levy.
“The project has brought about a positive shift towards placing more emphasis on generating outcomes of financial benefit for the potato industry. We looked at the costs involved, quantified the benefits in areas such as CIPC application, weed control, aphid monitoring, export missions and marketing.”
As an example, he highlighted that the Council’s marketing objective is to sustain demand for potatoes and protect the share of potatoes consumed. “Calculations show that if our activity protects one meal with potatoes every fortnight, the total value is £3.17m from an investment of £250,000.”
Another example looks at the benefits of research undertaken into improving evenness of application of the sprout suppressant CIPC. Results demonstrated a potential reduction in CIPC use can be achieved on a significant proportion of the 1.8 million tonnes of potatoes treated each year.
The importance of this sprout suppressant was also emphasised on various stands at the event, including the National Association of Agricultural Contractors. On the first day of the event, the Association launched an accreditation scheme for CIPC applicators.
“An independently-audited standard will help to increase confidence in the professional standards achieved by chlorpropham (CIPC) applicators,” said Potato Council head of R&D Dr Mike Storey, who chairs the industry CIPC stewardship group. “CIPC levels are closely monitored by the Pesticide Residue Committee and any MRL exceedances would have serious consequences for the whole industry. Raising standards and providing customers with assurances about the safety and traceability of the fogging operation is a good step forwards.”
In his seminar on the Potato Council stand, Dr Storey also presented the results of a recent Potato Council survey undertaken on grower research priorities. “The economics of business was the challenge most often cited by respondents,” he explained. “This includes input costs, market price and maintaining profitability – all vital components of maintaining a healthy business.”
The impact of pests and diseases such as PCN and blackleg and water issues were flagged as being the other most important concerns raised by growers.
Further topics covered in the well-attended seminars included pests and diseases, the latest news on Potato Council marketing campaigns, business insights and market research updates in addition to the costs of production from the 2010 growing season.
Exhibitors were also upbeat about the event, acknowledging that despite the current economic climate, attending BP2011 made sound business sense.
Graeme Beattie, managing director of Branston Ltd said: “We had a great time at BP2011 and our stand was constantly buzzing. It was a great opportunity for us to meet up with different sectors of the industry.”
“We had an excellent two days, which included selling three Destoners and two Trailed Harvesters along with some very positive enquiries,” reported Grimme sales director Barry Baker. “I was very impressed with the optimism and interest shown – we’ve had plenty of positive enquiries from the large number of interested growers through our stand.”
“With current market conditions I was surprised how optimistic growers were at BP2011,” says Nick Woodcock from Tong Peal Engineering. “Growers and packers are continually looking to improve operational efficiency; we had a successful event with a promising amount of enquiries for new equipment in 2012.”
Potato Council head of communications Dr Hall, who organised the event said: “It really was thought-provoking and encouraging to hear such a positive outlook for a progressive industry from numerous industry delegates. We had some interesting discussions and feedback has been really positive.”