Potatoes in Mid West spudded in


Potato production in the Mid West appears set to expand after a year of crop monitoring under a new research project by the Department of Agriculture and Food.

The Mid West has been identified as an area for winter production to fill demand in domestic and export markets.

Plantings near Dandaragan, a traditional dryland wheat farming area, over the past year have gone well and hopes to provide additional mid-winter supplies for local and possible export markets look to be on track.

Three properties, totalling about 120 hectares, are involved. These pioneer growers come from traditional potato farming families - Craig Ryan and Mick and Dave Fox, of Pemberton - and wheat farmers who have diversified into potato production, such as Mark Hyde and Mark Campbell.

The two-year research project has received financial assistance from the Agriculture Produce Commission and Horticultural Australia Ltd.

Planting of the Dandaragan crops starts in March but this created an immediate challenge in accessing seed that needed to be harvested in November for correct maturity.

Supplies from South West areas such as Busselton were insufficient for the new demand and the Mid West growers have had to grow their own seed for at least one generation.

To do this they purchase G4 seed from crops harvested in the summer in the South West and grow for one generation, sowing in June/July and harvesting 'bulk' seed in mid-November on their own properties.

This then gives them a supply of seed at the right age for the autumn plantings. So, out of necessity, they become seed growers.

Department senior research officer Ian McPharlin said the growers realised disease management was critical in producing high quality seed. Diseases of major concern are viruses and their vectors (carriers) such as green peach aphid (GPA).

"The project was able to provide a full season of insect monitoring showing defined peaks in GPA numbers, mainly in the spring with a smaller peak in winter," Dr McPharlin said.

"Disease testing provided the growers with a full analysis of the viruses in their seed crops which demonstrated the importance of their management.

"Training in visual recognition of viruses and 'roguing', or removal, of diseased plants to maximise yield of high quality seed is planned for 2012."

Soil moisture was monitored on the three properties using time domain reflectometry (TDR) probes to assist growers with their irrigation management.

Harvesting began in late July and continued through to November with yields ranging up to 55 tonnes per hectare.

Some potatoes are being sold for crisping or wares, as well as their own seed crops.

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