Perfect potatoes go to waste over psyllid pest

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Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
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Potato farmers Trevor Barker and Colin Ayres with potatoes destined to become cattle feed.
Camera IconPotato farmers Trevor Barker and Colin Ayres with potatoes destined to become cattle feed. Credit: Laurie Benson/The West Australian

Seed potato growers have started dumping the first of their perfectly good potatoes as interstate borders remain closed after the detection of the tomato potato psyllid pest in WA.

Albany grower Trevor Barker said he had fed around 60 tonnes to his cattle and had another 250 tonnes which would likely follow in coming weeks.

His neighbour, Colin Ayres, who is president of the WA Seed Potato Growers Association, expects he will need to dump his first batch within two weeks from a total 1500 tonnes stockpiled.

Although interstate trade has been reinstated in principle for some fruit and vegetables, the WA Government continues to seek market access for seed potato growers.

The resumption of interstate potato trade hinges on increasing confidence the damaging bacterium Candidatus Liberibacter solanacearum (CLso), which can be carried by the TPP, is not present in WA.

Testing in WA is under way and no evidence of CLso has been found. Work has started on reaching national agreement on CLso-testing methods but ,in the meantime, the growers remain in limbo.

Potato Growers Association executive officer Simon Moltoni estimates time is running out for about 3000 tonnes of seed potatoes stockpiled across the State. Other growers have left an estimated further 1000 tonnes of seed potato crops in the ground to rot given the closed borders.

Seed potatoes are worth between $650 and $1100 a tonne, depending on variety.

Mr Moltoni said growers faced many dilemmas, for instance they could prolong shelf life through cold storage, but that cost $100 tonne, with no guarantees of borders reopening or customers still needing their produce.

Growers would also soon need to decide whether to plant a crop for next year amid the uncertainty about whether their produce could be sent interstate.

There are knock-on effects for commercial potato growers, who have had downward pressure on their prices as excess seed potatoes make their way into these markets.

Although prices for fresh potatoes usually fall at this time of year, an oversupply on the market has exacerbated the decline. The surplus means wholesalers are being particularly picky so anything other than premium quality is not being bought, leading to big volumes of waste.

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