24 Aug 2010

Australia growers against potential NZ imports

7:56 am on 24 August 2010

Australian potato growers are digging in their heels over an application to allow imports of New Zealand fresh potatoes for processing.

Ausveg says the imports could threaten the viability of the Australian potato industry.

The Ministry of Agriculture is currently seeking renewed access for New Zealand potatoes to Australian processing facilities, so they can be made into potato crisps.

But Ausveg chief executive Richard Mulcahy says growers are concerned the disease, zebra chip, which has devastated the New Zealand potato industry, could be brought into the country.

Last year the disease cost New Zealand growers $43 million.

Mr Mulcahy says Australian growers will vigorously fight the import application.

Fight 'likely to be drawn-out affair'

The New Zealand industry believes the fight to export fresh potatoes across the Tasman could end up being a long-drawn out affair, much like the apple access debate.

Potatoes NZ chair Terry Olsen says it is going to take a lot of effort to gain access to Australia.

The industry currently exports about 50,000 tonnes of frozen potatoes annually to Australia worth more than $40 million.

Mr Olsen is not sure how much the fresh processed trade would be worth.

He says the New Zealand industry has so far spent $5 million on developing an integrated pest management strategy to satisfy market demands.

Mr Olsen says once it's completed, it should ease Australian growers' concerns about zebra chip, which is spread by the psyllid insect pest.

He says it took the industry 13-years to get fresh potatoes into Taiwan and he expects a similar timeframe for access into Australia.