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Wednesday, 25 March 1942

Senator AYLETT (Tasmania) . - The Government did not make any contract with the growers of peas but the peas were planted on the definite understanding that the growers would receive at least £1. a bushel. According to information received by the Premier of Tasmania from the Australian High Commissioner in London, the Department of Commerce and the Agent-General for Tasmania, the British Ministry for Food was prepared to take 30,000 tons of peas at £30 a ton sterling. The farmers are very disappointed that they will not receive about £1 a bushel for their product. Information was received that a portion of the crop was sold at as high a price as 26s. a bushel. Seeing that the Prices Commissioner has seen fit to fix the price of peas at 15s. a bushel, I hope that the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce will indicate to-morrow whether the price of 15s. a bushel will be clear to the growers, or whether insurance, storage, wharfage and expenses of the board will be deducted, thus bringing the price down to approximately 13s. a bushel. This year growers in Tasmania have experienced an adverse season, and it now appears that the crop will not total more than about 6,000 tons, in which case even a clear 15s. a bushel would not be a particularly attractive price to the growers.

Senator Keane - -How did the growers carry on when the price was only 6s. 6d. a bushel?

Senator AYLETT - The Minister is referring to a period over the last ten years, which included a depression, during which time the price of peas was very low. Damaged peas which were sold at from 3s. to 4s. a bushel were also included in the average price of 6s. 6d. a bushel. This was an unprofitable price to the farmers, because allowance has to be made for the cost of seed, harvesting, threshing, and other operations, leaving about 15s. an acre for ploughing, cultivating and looking after the crop during its growth, and for the rent of land. That would be definitely an unpayable proposition. Blue peas are grown as a rotation crop, and farmers plant them in the hope of receiving an improved price in the following season. Peas are a very delicate crop and are most susceptible to damage by rain and frost. I understand that negotiations are in progress for the purchase of 6,000 tons next year at 15s. a bushel, but I am doubtful if that quantity will be available. If the farmers respond well and the crop realizes 12,000 tons, will the Government then give to pea-growers similar consideration to that received by the growers of other primary products such as wheat and wool? Will the Government acquire (he whole of their crop for the duration of the war and for twelve months afterwards ?

Senator Keane - The peas were acquired at the request of the Government of Tasmania-

Senator AYLETT - Nobody has followed the history of this matter more closely than I have. In the first place, owing to the merchants making a profit of 9s. to 10s. a bushel, consideration was given to the practicability of forming a pea pool to be controlled by the growers themselves. The growers were quite satisfied that they could get £11s. a bushel for their product; but, when the proposal was submitted to the Commonwealth Government, it was not inclined to acquire the crop and establish a pool. We went further. The Deputy Prices Commissioner in Hobart intimated that if the crop were acquired, the price of peas would be fixed at 15s. a bushel. He had been in consultation with the merchants. When that announcement was made, we dropped the idea of establishing a pea pool for fear of getting only 15s. a bushel. We wanted 21s. a bushel for the grower. After that, the Commonwealth Government found it required the peas itself, and set up a pea pool, and I understand that peas will be acquired at.15s. a bushel, which was the price decided on by the merchants in the first place. I hope that the Government will see that 15s. a bushel clear is paid to the growers, and that the pool will operate for the duration of the war and twelve months afterwards, as is the case in connexion with other pools.

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