World first opens markets for WA potato growers

Posted by Josette Dunn on 15th September 2010

Western Australia’s $45million potato industry is poised to regain access to valuable international markets after being cleared of the devastating pest, potato cyst nematode.

Following more than two decades of rigorous testing and surveillance, Western Australia has been reinstated as a potato cyst nematode (PCN) free area, WA Agriculture and Food Minister Terry Redman announced today.

“Since the discovery of the nematode on six properties in the Perth metropolitan area between 1986 and 1989, industry and the Department of Agriculture and Food have worked to contain and eliminate the pest through an eradication program, extensive survey work and strict quarantine procedures,” Mr Redman said.

“Once detected, area freedom from PCN has never been achieved anywhere in the world, so this achievement is a triumph for the WA potato industry.”

PCN is a parasite that stunts growth and significantly reduces crop yields. Because of its impact on crops, and the difficulty in eradicating it, countries that are PCN-free impose stringent import restrictions.

WA growers currently export seed potatoes to Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mauritius, Thailand and Vietnam. Export-grade potatoes for fresh consumption are sold to 11 countries with the majority going to Malaysia and Singapore.

“The WA potato industry will now be able to pursue access into other important markets, such as Korea and Taiwan. They have previously been excluded from these due to PCN import restrictions,” the Minister said.

Mr Redman acknowledged the dedicated and innovative work by department scientists and industry over a significant period of time to achieve this landmark result.

“PCN cysts are the size of a pinhead so very difficult to detect in the soil,” he said.

“The test methods used were therefore highly sensitive. Almost three tonnes of soil was collected during intensive sampling of potato fields across the State, and the organic matter extracted from this soil was examined microscopically to detect cysts. These results were added to 2,900 crop assessments and 28,900 bin and equipment inspections carried out during the past 24 years.

The Minister said WA’s PCN free area status would be maintained through regular surveillance, routine monitoring and maintenance of strict national and international biosecurity controls.