Spud growers face ‘perfect storm’

Chloe FraserBusselton Dunsborough Times

Potato growers in the region are bracing for a “perfect storm”, with farmers warned to be alert for signs of disease after a new bacteria was recently detected.

The detection of dickeya dianthicola in a commercial crop north of Perth comes as local farmers try to adapt to newly deregulated markets and the loss of interstate exportation after another pest — the tomato potato psyllid — was detected in February. Jindong potato farmer Daryl Smith said the detection of new bacteria came at a difficult time for growers.

“We have way too many spuds at the moment; the market is flooded,” he said.

“Export has stopped because of fear we may have bacteria in our potatoes and now another potential blackleg disease, so it’s pretty tough.

“I’m fairly sure there will be potatoes that just won’t be harvested.” The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development — formerly the Department of Agriculture and Food WA — last week warned potato growers of the new bacteria, saying the pest was a significant production risk for potatoes and could cause blackleg and soft rot.

A commercial property where the bacteria was found is under quarantine, while three other properties including two South West properties — which the department could not reveal — have also been quarantined.

Mr Smith said the detection of the new pest, combined with an oversupply of potatoes, the closure of the Canning Vale Smith’s Chips factory in 2015, deregulation of the market, and detection of the pest tomato potato psyllid earlier this year had created a “perfect storm” for potato growers.

“Because of all these things we can’t export excess potatoes — our only other option is to sell at a low price and/or plough in,” he said.

However, Department of Water irrigated agriculture executive director John Ruprecht said the department was working with the WA industry and national stakeholders to minimise the impact of the new pest.

“The department has measures in place to contain the bacteria and is carrying out tracing and surveillance to determine its spread,” he said.

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