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Published: 23 Sep 2022

Tasmanian Certified Seed Potato Scheme Certification Officers, Kathryn Goulding and Ann-Maree Donoghue, standing with a bag of potatoes.

Many Australians have an unconditional love of potatoes, from enjoying a bucket of hot chips at the footy to a staple food in the Sunday roast. It’s easy to take the humble spud for granted, but behind-the-scenes important work is underway to safeguard the potato industry and ensure consumers continue to receive the perfect spud.

The Tasmanian Certified Seed Potato Scheme, run by the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA), provides an independent service to ensure that seed potatoes are grown in accordance with a strict national standard. It’s an essential service as potatoes are one of Tasmania’s top agricultural products with a farm gate value of $137 million in 2019-20 (Tasmanian Agri-Food ScoreCard).

An important role of the scheme is to ensure that only clean potato seed enters the industry, which helps to control the spread of pests and diseases including Powdery Scab, Common Scab, Nematodes, Soft Rots and Viruses. This involves extensive leaf sampling each season to test for the presence of pathogens.

TIA’s Certification Officers, Kathryn Goulding and Ann-Maree Donoghue, work directly with 41 growers across Tasmania and are responsible for the field inspection of 750 hectares of seed potatoes. Each field receives a minimum of two inspections each season, but usually three to four to ensure it is visually free from pests and diseases.

“We work closely with seed potato growers to ensure the propagation of high yielding, high quality seed lines, which is essential for the maintenance of a sustainable potato industry. When growers purchase certified seed potatoes, they can be sure they are receiving high quality seed that has undergone rigorous inspection,” Mrs Donoghue said.

“We are very proud of the fact we don’t have many of the viruses that are present elsewhere in Australia and internationally.”

During the initial field inspection, one of the things the Certification Officers check for is that the variety is true-to-type.

“It’s important that there is no mix in the variety as this can have significant ramifications later down the track.  For example, clients such as fast-food restaurants require a certain variety of potato to achieve a consistent French fry appearance, flavour and texture,” Mrs Donoghue said.

“A small problem can become a big problem really quickly. If a single potato in a generation one crop is the wrong variety it will produce 10 potatoes which are then harvested, cut into three pieces and 30 potatoes will be planted out the next year. So, in three years’ time, that single potato which is the wrong variety could become 300 in a field and then there is a problem.”

At harvest time random samples of tubers are inspected for disease and defects by to ensure they meet post-harvest criteria - this sees the inspection of tens of thousands of tubers   from across Tasmania during each season.

“The scheme is independent and is guided by the Australian National Standard for the Certification of Seed Potatoes which sets the minimum standards for disease, trueness to type and defects. The tolerances are really tight, but they are tight for a reason,” Mrs Donoghue said.

The Scheme also conducts monitoring for Potato Cyst Nematode (PCN). Tasmania has a declared Area Freedom Status for  PCN and extensive monitoring is required to ensure this pest-free status is protected, which provides a competitive advantage for Tasmanian growers in domestic and international markets.

Photo caption: Tasmanian Certified Seed Potato Scheme Certification Officers, Kathryn Goulding and Ann-Maree Donoghue, help to protect Tasmania’s potato industry from pests and diseases

Source: This article was published in Tasmanian Country Newspaper on 23  August 2022