Busselton potato growers stung by pest

Trade restrictions on WA potato growers have hit a number of Busselton farmers hard after an outbreak of the tomato potato psylid pest was detected.

Potato Growers Association of WA executive officer Simon Moltoni said the ban on exporting to the east coast had created an oversupply in WA and some growers were suffering big losses.

The pest affects solanaceae plants including potato, tomato, sweet potato, eggplant, capsicum, chilli and tamarillos. 

Mr Moltoni said the export ban had pushed seed growers into the fresh market.

He said the same potato growers had also been hit when the industry was deregulated and had suffered at the closure of the Smith Crisps factory.

The pest was declared an endemic and Mr Moltoni said while it was unlikely it would be eradicated, the industry had gone into a management phase which added costs to growers.

“It has been a snowball effect and the growers have probably lost confidence in the industry,” he said. 

Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan said while most trade restrictions affected by the detection of tomato potato psyllid in WA had been removed potato growers were still affected.

Ms MacTiernan said the Department of Agriculture and Food had led talks in Adelaide over the last week which resulted in an in-principle agreement to risk mitigate and treatment measures.

She said this would work for many WA growers and offer protection to other states, saving the WA horticulture industry millions of dollars in potential lost earnings.

"This in-principle agreement is a welcome step forward but there is more work to be done on potatoes, cut flowers, some lines of field-packed vegetables and some nursery stock,” she said.

"We will continue working to ensure these proposed changes are put in place as quickly as possible and to negotiate on those products, especially potatoes, still affected by trade restrictions."

The Department of Food and Agriculture southern region director Neil Guise said surveillance had been conducted on more than 250 commercial and residential properties in the region.

Mr Guise said psylid was detected on six commercial properties in Busselton and Margaret River and those properties had applied treatments to control the pest.

“DAFWA will continue to work with the potato industry to seek market access for WA potato growers.”

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