AUSTRALIAN potato growers face yet another biosecurity risk with a new bacteria threat emerging in Western Australia this month.
The WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development has asked growers to be alert for signs of the bacteria, Dickeya dianthicola, after it was confirmed in a commercial potato crop north of Perth last week.
A suspect detection from another property in the south-west is undergoing further testing.
Dickeya dianthicola can cause the diseases blackleg and soft rot in potatoes, diseases which are already present in Australia.
Overseas it has been reported to cause significant yield loss in potato crops. It can also infect some ornamental plants, artichoke and chicory.
Disease symptoms include pre-emergence tuber rot, leading to blackleg, aerial stem rot and tuber soft rot. Slimy, black rot lesion is a characteristic symptom of blackleg.
Department of Irrigated Agriculture executive director, John Ruprecht, said the department has measures in place to contain the bacteria and is carrying out tracing and surveillance to determine its spread.
“This detection comes at a very difficult time for our horticulture industry, in particular potato growers, following market access issues as a result of the detection of the pest, tomato potato psyllid, earlier this year," Mr Ruprecht said.
“The department will be working with the WA industry and national stakeholders to minimise the impact of this new pest.”
The Consultative Committee on Emergency Plant Pests has met to discuss the detection, and has kept open the possibility for eradication, dependent upon further surveillance to determine the extent of the outbreak.
The new alert comes as the industry continues to monitor tomato potato psyllid which was discovered in WA in February this year.
WA potatoes and other produce have been restricted from entering interstate markets since the discovery.
Trade of pome fruit and stone fruit was able to resume as normal in May, provided they were free of any green plant or leaf material.
We will keep working with other States to develop the scientific protocols to underpin improved market access, but we need to start looking at new opportunities for growers.
Measures such as washing, targeted inspection or secure packaging now apply to a range of produce including strawberries and leafy vegetables packed in packhouses.
Ausveg has reminded growers to renew their focus on on-farm biosecurity, including developing a biosecurity plan in the wake of the potato disease discoveries.
Ausveg national manager – science and extension, Dr Jessica Lye, said most farm biosecurity plans already contain several common practices, such as signs with contact details for the farm manager or showing visitors where to park to avoid spreading infected soil.
"However, growers should also undertake risk assessments and identify any priority areas that require further attention," Dr Lye said.
“Maintaining farm biosecurity requires ongoing action from growers, including following appropriate guidelines for vehicle and visitor movements, providing adequate training and hygiene supplies to staff and contractors, and routine crop monitoring.
"Given the potentially devastating impacts that the spread of pests could have on individual growing operations and the industry as a whole, developing a clear, consistent biosecurity plan for your farm has long-lasting benefits.”
Last week the WA state government announced it would establish a $1.5 million Horticultural Research Recovery Fund to support growers in finding new international and domestic markets.
The $1.5 million allocation has been funded through the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development.
WA agriculture and food minister, Alannah MacTiernan, said it had been an incredibly difficult period for growers, particularly potato growers who have been unable to sell into the eastern states.
"We will keep working with other States to develop the scientific protocols to underpin improved market access, but we need to start looking at new opportunities for growers," Ms MacTiernan said.
"There are real opportunities to turn our produce into high-quality food products as well as to focus on international markets, and this fund will help to kickstart work in these areas.
"We will be working closely with industry over the next three months to develop these new opportunities and get WA produce moving again."
Growers should report any unusual plant symptoms to the department’s Pest and Disease Information Service on 1800 084 881.
Horticulture Innovation Australia released a quick-reference monitoring guide to help growers identify tomato potato psyllid that can be accessed online.