Cor­ri­dor spuds free from frost

Harvey-Waroona Reporter - - FRONT PAGE - Jac­inta Can­ta­tore

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

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