McCAIN Foods agriculture director John Jackson has admitted the company’s relationship with the region’s potato growers has been damaged in recent years.
However, the prosperity of McCain and the growers were intertwined, he said, and they needed a more co-operative relationship to survive against pressure from imports.
Mr Jackson became McCain’s agriculture director – a national role based in Ballarat – in May last year.
He said one of his priorities had been to repair bridges.
“The relationship was damaged and very confrontational,” Mr Jackson said.
“The way forward is better communication and working together.
“We all want a future in the industry and it is not just the farms under pressure. We are also under pressure from imports as well.”
Mr Jackson said there was little scope in the short-term for an increase in the price paid to the farmer because McCain had to keep its own cost structure in order.
However, there were other ways to improve how much money farmers made and kept from growing potatoes.
“With the amount of imports coming in we have to work together to reduce costs,” Mr Jackson said. “We are working together to look at costs at the factory but also on the farm.
“For example, we are bringing nine farmers to New Zealand to expose them to new ideas and new ways of doing things.
Dean potato grower Scott Diamond said farmers were cautiously optimistic about the new relationship.
“I can’t speak for all farmers but the new management seems better at communicating,” he said. “Compared with 12 months ago it is pretty different.
“There is potential to work with McCain to reduce costs for fertiliser, seed and fuel. There is dialogue now and that wasn’t happening.”