Growers eyeing Australia

New member of the Potatoes New Zealand board, David Redmond, with a bin of Nadine potatoes. He hopes access to the 
Australian marketplace that has been firmly restricted will soon open up. Photo from Courier Country files.
New member of the Potatoes New Zealand board, David Redmond, with a bin of Nadine potatoes. He hopes access to the Australian marketplace that has been firmly restricted will soon open up. Photo from Courier Country files.

While the door to the Australian market remains closed to fresh produce for now, Canterbury potato growers are hopeful it will not stay latched shut for long.

Potatoes New Zealand grower-director David Redmond, of Ashburton, said it had been the case for a ''long while'' but growers would like to be able to export to Australia.

''We export to Fiji and the Pacific Islands but that is a small market with not much potential to expand. It would be great to get our spuds into Australia.''

Only frozen, processed potatoes are allowed into Australia.

The Australian Senate Committee which was last month considering allowing fresh potatoes into the country for processing, postponed a decision saying another risk analysis of biosecurity threats was needed first.

In particular, the committee feared an incursion of the tomato-potato psyllid pest which would spread ''zebra chip'' disease.

Potatoes NZ was continuing to push for access and ultimately would like the scope of access extended to include fresh potatoes for consumption and seed.

Mr Redmond said having another market option would help ease pressure on growers who were facing ever-increasing costs and decreasing margins.

Potatoes were an expensive crop to grow, there was stiff competition for land use, growers were ''squeezed by processors'', and were being forced to take greater investment risks to remain viable.

The industry needed to keep trying to break into the Australian market, Mr Redmond said. Mid and South Canterbury were principal potato-growing areas, along with Pukekohe and Manawatu.

Nearly 300 growers produce about 500,000 tonnes of potatoes a year.

Potatoes NZ chief executive Champak Mehta said admitting New Zealand fresh potatoes for processing in Australia would complement the present frozen trade and would also benefit the Australian industry.

''We feel that the ability for Australian processors to import New Zealand fresh potatoes for processing in times of high demand that can't be met from domestic sources, gives them a greater degree of flexibility and mitigates business risk.

''This makes the Australian processing industry more globally competitive, not less,'' Mr Mehta said.

Potatoes NZ's industry strategy, adopted last year, is to double the value of fresh and processed New Zealand exports by 2025.

Export of fresh potatoes has remained steady since 2003 at about 27,000 to 30,000 tonnes.

Mr Mehta said potato growers had a much better understanding of how best to control the tomato-potato psyllid.

Agrichemical use was targeted and more effective, and as a result growers were using less on crops than before the arrival of the pest, he said.

- by Ruth Grundy