Ballarat’s besieged potato farming industry is worth $20 million — and McCain Foods must front up on its plans to put local growers out of business, according to DLP senator-elect John Madigan.

Mr Madigan said McCain clearly had an agenda to make the local potato growing sector unsustainable.

He challenged McCain director and negotiator Tony Ford to a public debate on the issue.

“There’s too much at stake simply to let this play out and have our potato farmers again get screwed,” Mr Madigan said.

“We’re talking about a privately-owned multinational that over recent years has aggressively halved the number of growers in the region by paying less and less for produce.’’

Mr Madigan said the potato growing industry was worth $20 million to the Ballarat region.

“You speak to any potato grower, and most if not all of that money is going back into the local economy,’’ Mr Madigan said

Last week McCain told growers they would receive $273.50 per tonne, down from $335 per tonne two years ago.

A McCain spokesman said no company executive would engage in a public debate on the issue and the company rejected the claim it was “killing the industry”.

“McCain contributes around $250 million through its operations in Victoria to the local economy including employing around 800 people,” the spokesman said.

“Growers in Victoria have amongst the highest costs in the world and need to be competitive against imports which are increasing year on year.’’