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Published: 12 Aug 2020

Doug Clark

Keeping watch over Tasmania’s precious potatoes are a team at the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) who have the important role of monitoring for disease and ensuring the stability of the state’s potato industry.

The Tasmanian Certified Seed Potato Scheme (TasSeed), managed by TIA, underpins Tasmania’s valuable potato industry which in 2018-19 recorded a farmgate value of $123 million and a processed value of $435 million.

“The certification program ensures the propagation and multiplication of high yielding, high quality seed lines, and is essential for the maintenance of a sustainable potato industry. We certify well over 95 per cent of seed potatoes grown in Tasmania,” Manager of TasSeed and TIA’s Forthside Research Farm, Doug Clark, said.

“Each year we work directly with seed potato growers and industry to independently certify around 100 different varieties, ensuring that each generation of seed meets the guidelines for disease and pests that are set by the scheme. The program helps to guarantee the overall health of seed potato stock for Tasmania.

“We have the strongest seed potato certification scheme in the southern hemisphere and possibly the world.”

Tasmanian seed potato certification started in the 1950s and this role is currently performed by a team of experienced inspectors from TIA, who independently monitor seed potato paddocks around Tasmania to check the health of the crop and the occurrence of virus, pest and diseases. Once harvested, the potato tubers are also inspected for quality attributes, and pest and disease levels on entry to the coolstore.

“Tasmania’s potato industry relies on certified seed to ensure the production of a quality fresh and processed product for consumers. It’s also important for helping potato growers to achieve a desirable yield per hectare – as sound seed potatoes have been shown to produce a higher yield and a more profitable outcome for growers,” Mr Clark said.

“By monitoring seed stock for disease, we can help to maintain a sustainable potato industry by helping to preventing the outbreak of disease rather than trying to control it once it has already become established. All of our generation two seed lines are independently tested for virus and various Pectobacterium, and we have an accurate understanding of tuber health within our scheme.”

TIA Senior industry Development Manager, Sue Hinton, said the scheme had been successful at keeping disease levels at zero or very low levels which was essential to the ability of Tasmanian seed potato growers to export to other states around Australia and internationally.

“Through the scheme we’ve been able to keep Potato Cyst Nematode (PCN) out of Tasmania which is a huge competitive advantage for Tasmanian growers,” Ms Hinton said.

“Another competitive advantage for Australian growers is that we are able to plant seed for a commercial crop once it reaches generation three or four, compared to around generation 10 to 12 in Europe. The risk of disease occurrence increases with each generation of seed and planting younger – and higher quality - generations gives us the best chance of the crop performing well in the field.”

The Tasmanian Certified Seed Potato Scheme is governed by a National Standard which applies to all schemes around Australia to ensure consistency.

TIA is a joint venture of the University of Tasmania and the Tasmanian Government.