THE headline read: "McCain growers gain potato price boost"
This was in the local daily, the Advocate, on September 10.
The price boost was $33/tonne and the grower interviewed said: "It's the biggest price rise we've had for a lot of years - it's going to make a lot of difference."
Apparently, the opening bid from McCain was $7.50, so they did pretty well.
"A lot of years" is a pretty vague phrase so I decided to delve a bit deeper.
- Tasmanian potato farmers need McCain's investment to increase demand and raise prices
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- Tasmanian growers are pushing for a price increase
It seems that in 2013 the price McCain offered was the same as in the 1990s so things have obviously changed dramatically.
The question is -why? I thought it would be useful to have a closer look at McCain the company first.
It's a Canadian multi-national, privately owned company established in 1957 by two brothers, Wallace and Harrison McCain, in Florenceville, New Brunswick.
It has now grown to be the world's largest manufacturer of frozen potato products and had a revenue of $US6.8 billion in 2017.
You will be familiar with those products - super fries, wedges, extra crispy, beer batter, roast, hash browns, shoe-string and crinkle cut.
That's just the potato products - there are dozens more from a range of ingredients. My favourite has to be their Angus Beef Pizza but each to his own, and that's not to mention baby peas, beans, carrots and juicy corn.
McCain has its centre in Smithton in the Far North West. It purchased the Copper Kettle processing plant there in 1984.
It's had its ups and downs - it was closed in 2009 with a loss of 200 jobs but reopened a few years later and it is now the most productive of the 54 McCain vegetable factories around the world.
Smithton is tucked away in the far top left corner of this highly productive state.
Its arch- rival, Simplot, has its huge potato processing plant just down the road from Ulverstone, near where I live and is much more visible.
Simplot's offer of an increase of $20/tonne was reported in the August edition of this journal.
The company has about the same range of products and turnover as McCain.
So that's a snapshot of McCain. It's now time to get back to the question of that "why".
On August 1 last year, the ABC Country Hour ran a scathing story on McCain:
"The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is investigating allegations of unconscionable conduct towards growers by one of the country's major vegetable processors.... "
"It has received complaints alleging McCain has engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct in its dealings with potato growers (including) exerting undue pressure on growers during contract negotiations...
"Former Senator for Victoria, John Madigan (said) he knows of behaviour by McCain that is deplorable... the way people were played off against each other, one would question whether it's conscionable conduct."
The ACCC inquiry obviously made McCain change its attitude and tactics. It's very encouraging to see that quasi-Government organisations such as this have teeth.
- Dr Walker would welcome your comments. Drop him an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org