Quality focus for SA spuds

Quality focus for SA spuds


Horticulture
ON THE GO: Large-scale seed potato producer Ben Dowling says importing fresh potatoes for processing from New Zealand is an unacceptable risk for Australia. Despite potential disease threat, he has invested in new potato handling facilities to double seed production and lift export potential.

ON THE GO: Large-scale seed potato producer Ben Dowling says importing fresh potatoes for processing from New Zealand is an unacceptable risk for Australia. Despite potential disease threat, he has invested in new potato handling facilities to double seed production and lift export potential.

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SOUTH Australia is the nation's largest potato-growing region, producing 22,000 tonnes of certified seed each year.

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SOUTH Australia is the nation's largest potato-growing region, producing 22,000 tonnes of certified seed each year.

Its three main seed stock regions – Kangaroo Island, the Mallee/Riverland, and the South East – enjoy a relatively disease-free status and production is booming.

But this lucrative multi-million dollar industry is under threat.

Free trade agreements are putting pressure on authorities to open the gates to potatoes from New Zealand whose industry is plagued by diseases such as zebra chip that could devastate Australia's industry.

But seed producers in SA are getting on with the job and pushing the 'pristine, clean green image' of their seed stock, proving why their industry is so well-regarded throughout the country, and internationally.

Large-scale seed potato producer Ben Dowling, Mount Gambier, said allowing fresh potato imports for processing from New Zealand is an unacceptable risk to Australia and hopes the reality of such moves being "needless, impractical and unaffordable" means it will not happen.

In October last year, a Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee Senate Inquiry was conducted into NZ potato imports. Findings and recommendations from the inquiry are scheduled for release on March 20.

Its brief has been to address biosecurity risks for the Australian potato industry should fresh product be imported from NZ for processing, despite processed NZ potatoes already being allowed in as frozen French fries and crisps.

The threat of introduced disease from across the Tasman through potato imports could also affect tomato, capsicum and eggplant crops, which together represent $1.5 billion of Australia's agricultural production.

SA Senator Nick Xenophon was involved with the inquiry and said "this little bug could end up being a big problem".

"Australian farmers are already doing it tough without the Government putting their crops at risk through inadequate biosecurity rules," he said.

Sen. Xenophon said the Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement between Australia and New Zealand appeared to be the root of the problem.

"In principle, the CER is good for both countries but we can't let free trade principles stand in the way of protecting our clean, green image," he said.

He said this had been the case with Australian imports of horticultural products and that it would "keep happening unless the government improves biosecurity protocols".

Mr Dowling is confident of a promising future.

His business, Dowling AgriTech, recently invested heavily in developing a new seed potato handling facility on his South East property.

"This will give us the ability to handle large tonnages of seed potatoes from harvest through to cool storage and up to seed-ready for planting, all at the one site," Mr Dowling said.

"We have employed more people, have four full-time staff and up to 12 casuals.

"We do have confidence in the industry as a whole, even though the processing sector is shrinking.

"We believe if we continue to produce high-quality seed potatoes, the industry has a very good future."

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