Corridor spuds free from frost
Potato crops in the horticultural corridor near Myalup and Yarloop were mostly spared from frosty conditions on September 16, which devastated crops across the South West.
Busselton plants were the hardest hit by the worst frost in generations, with growers estimating losses of 30 to 50 per cent of their harvest.
Yarloop potato grower Patrick Fox, of Fox Farming Pty Ltd, said his family had farmed potatoes in Yarloop and Scott River for four generations.
“This is the only severe frost we’ve had since we started growing here,” Mr Fox said.
In a stroke of luck heavy winter storms meant Mr Fox delayed sowing his Yarloop crop but it was a different story for his Scott River plantations.
“We’re estimating about a $150,000 to $200,000 loss on our current crop,” he said.
“All the tops of the plants are burned off.”
Potato Growers Association of Western Australia executive Simon Moltoni visited growers across the South West last week to assess the damage.
“Some of the crops in Busselton look like they’ve been sprayed with herbicide,” Mr Moltoni said.
“When that dead plant material decays it can be a perfect breeding ground for fungal infection.”
Frost can cause severe damage to a potato plant depending on its stage of growth.
Younger plants have a chance of recovering from the frost damage, but mature plants entering a “bulking up” phase may abort developing tubers, resulting in a reduced yield of smaller potatoes
While the damage varies from farm to farm, some growers are preparing for the worst.
“Some growers have estimated a yield loss of 30 to 50 per cent,” Mr Moltoni said.
According to Mr Moltoni, the industry has faced difficulties in recent years, with industry deregulation in October 2016 and tomato potato psyllid detected in Yarloop in March last year causing other States to impose drastic export restrictions to prevent the spread of the pest.
Many WA growers were forced to dump their harvest because of oversupply.
“This has been the first opportunity for growers to make a profit since deregulation, and it has been ripped out of their hands at the last minute,” Mr Moltoni said. It may not be until the peak harvest season growers can make a final assessment, although many will push harvesting back by at least two weeks.
“A price increase in November and December could help reduce our losses,” Mr Fox said.
“Everything was looking picture perfect last week.
“Now we’re trying to salvage as much as we can.
With most of the remaining crops earmarked for export to Singapore and Mauritius, Mr Fox will begin discussions with his overseas buyers to negotiate