Independent Senator for South Australia, Nick Xenophon, will be joined by AUSVEG Deputy Chair and grower Geoff Moar, and Potatoes South Australia CEO Robbie Davis to serve up some potato wedges in support of Aussie potato producers.
The Australian industry is currently under threat from a proposal to import fresh New Zealand potatoes, which could carry the devastating tomato-potato psyllid. This destructive bug transmits a condition called ‘zebra chip’, which results in black stripes and a burned taste that makes the potato inedible.
The Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee is holding a hearing in Canberra today to receive evidence from the industry about the harm an infestation could cause if the imports are allowed to go ahead. The psyllid affects potato, tomato, capsicum and eggplant crops which together represent $1.5 billion of agricultural production in Australia.
“This little bug could end up being a big problem,” Nick said. “Australian farmers are already doing it tough without the Government putting their crops at risk through inadequate biosecurity rules.”
Senator Xenophon said the Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement (CER) Australia has with New Zealand appeared to be the root of the problem.
“In principle, the CER is good for both countries,” Nick said. “But we can’t let free trade principles stand in the way of protecting our clean, green image. We’ve seen this before with New Zealand apples, and this will keep happening unless the Government improves our biosecurity protocols.”
“The Senate Inquiry into fresh potatoes from New Zealand is monumentally important for the Australian potato industry as it validates the calls made by researchers and growers alike about the poor scientific quality of DAFF’s (Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) Draft review of import conditions,” said AUSVEG Public Affairs Manager, Simon Coburn.
“A potential biosecurity breach and consequential infestation of Zebra Chip in the Australian industry could halve its value - a decrease of more than a quarter of a billion dollars,” said Robbie Davis, CEO of Potatoes South Australia. “Many family farms and businesses would not survive. SA is the largest producer and so we, in South Australia, have the most to lose.”