THE Victorian Farmers Federation has hit out at McCain Foods for cutting back on using local farmers.
The state’s leading farmers’ group claimed there was little warning given to farmers about the impending supplier cuts, while also predicting a consumer backlash on the food production giant.
However McCain’s says farmers have been aware the cuts were always going to happen and there has been proper warning given for when contracts expire in five months.
Potato farmers say it will be impossible to simply change jobs in five months, especially since most have been growing potatoes their whole lives.
Up to a dozen farmers expect to be out of jobs as McCain’s looks to reduce its number of suppliers, brought on by reduced production across Australia.
VFF president Peter Tuohey said McCain’s had gone about reducing its number of suppliers the wrong way.
He said he held grave fears for the farmers and the industry as a whole.
“It’s very disappointing the way McCain’s are dealing with it,” Mr Tuohey said. “They can’t just go bang and say we don’t need you anymore to the farmers.”
It is believed some farmers have already signed individual contracts with McCain’s, at a price that is about 10 per cent lower than this year’s contract.
But there are many more in Ballarat who will be unable to afford the price cut, or simply won’t be offered another contract with McCain’s.
Mr Tuohey said the decision was potentially fraught with danger, considering there had been a healthy supply of potatoes in recent years.
“I don’t think it’s a very bright decision,” he said. “Things can turn around very quickly and what happens when there is a reduced supply of potatoes?”
The VFF is planning to meet McCain’s to discuss the situation and is also trying to find alternatives for growers. Although McCain’s will not declare how many suppliers are expected to be cut off, it is believed that up to a third will be out of jobs.
“We hope we can turn this situation around and implement reforms with growers and other stakeholders so we can increase demand for 2013-2014,” said McCain Foods regional supply chain director Graham Harvey.
It had previously been reported that McCain’s had opted for cheaper imported supplies, rather than Ballarat potatoes. Rather, McCain’s is cutting suppliers from throughout Australia.