FURIOUS potato growers and politicians banded together in Ballarat today and rallied against plans for New Zealand potato imports
Nationals senator for Victoria Bridget McKenzie and member for western Victoria David O’Brien met with about 30 growers at potato farmer Mick Frawley’s farm in Bungaree.
The group slammed the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry biosecurity’s proposal to allow whole New Zealand potato imports into Australia.
The industry believes imports would be infected with the devastating Zebra chip disease and carry Tomato-potato psyllids – both of which could have a catastrophic impact on the local potato industry.
The disease has wreaked havoc in America, Mexico, Canada and more recently New Zealand and can render crops worthless.
Senator McKenzie said the Government was basing the proposal to import on outdated information from 2009.
“Growers have made presentations to DAFF and the minister with new information published in the in the European Journal of Plant Pathology which should change the initial risk assessment and affect the decision to import from countries affected by Tomato-potato psyllid and Zebra chip,” Senator McKenzie said.
“We’ve got a clean green reputation here for our produce, but we will lose that if we let in disease.
“Having a viable sustainable potato industry going forward is crucial for us to meet Craig Emerson’s goal of feeding the world,” Senator McKenzie said.
Senator McKenzie said the Government needed to listen to growers.
“Our concern is that this Government doesn’t have a great track record with consulting with growers and producers and they’ve got to get serious about that so we can get the best outcomes for our primary producers.”
Grower Greg Murphy said if the pests made their way into Australia, they could reduce saleability of produce by anything up to 100 per cent.
“I think the Government is too worried about free trade to realise their local vegetable industry would be severely affected by these decisions.”
Mollongghip grower Tony Toohey said the potato industry was already on knife’s edge.
“The horticulture industry and potatoes included are really struggling with production costs with the high Australian dollar and an outbreak of Zebra chip would be absolutely devastating,” Mr Toohey said.
“It would be the nail in the coffin of a lot of potato growers.”