Improving Australia’s competitiveness in the Mauritius export seed market
Mauritius has been an important market for Australian potato seed with Western Australia being the major supplier in recent years. Mauritius is diversifying its agricultural sector to reduce its dependence on sugar and an important component of this is increased local potato production to reduce imports. Mauritius increased its potato production by 69% from 2005 to 2010 and reduced its imports by almost half. WA seed has been an important part of that expansion. For example, seed exports from WA steadily increased from less than 1000 tonnes to more than 2000 tonnes per annum over the same period. The continued successful expansion of Mauritian potato production depends heavily on the supply of high quality affordable seed. The export seed market is highly competitive and exporters need to make cost savings in the supply chain to retain markets. Although round (whole) seed is traditionally preferred in tropical countries like Mauritius, cut seed can be used successfully in the cooler planting period of June to July. Cut seed represents increased profits for both the Australian seed exporter and Mauritian potato grower. WA exporters will be able to sell a larger fraction of their crop for seed thus reducing costs which will in turn provide benefits for the Mauritian growers. Trials showed crops grown from cut seed performed almost as well as from round seed. Experimental crop yields from WA seed were at least 30% higher than the average yield of potatoes in Mauritius. This finding was supported by commercial experience in the second year of the project when small growers tested cut seed. It is anticipated that at least 10% of crops on the estates and 20% of the smaller farmers’ crops could use cut seed which could result in an extra 200 tonnes of export seed. WA exporters could reduce seed costs if they could sell at least 10% more of their crop as seed rather than as ware or for processing. A previous project showed cost savings could be made by packing and shipping seed in larger sizes compared with smaller bags. For example crops grown from lower-cost seed packed in bulk pine bins (0.75 t) yielded as well as from seed packed in more expensive mesh (25 kg) bags. As a follow up, this project showed yield of crops grown from seed packed in large ventilated 1.25 t Bulka™ bags was the same as from seed packed in the usual 25 kg woven bags. WA exporters can save $15-20/t due to reduced labour costs in filling the larger bags which will increase their competitiveness and in turn profits for Mauritian growers. Further savings can be made in seed handling in Mauritius using the larger bags. It is anticipated all WA seed used by the sugar estates (two-thirds of production or about 1000 t) could eventually be packed in the Bulka™ bags leading to savings of $15,000 to $20,000 per annum for WA growers/exporters – a good return for a project costing $75,239. More work with cut seed is needed to expand its use in plantings at all times. There is scope for more improved and efficient use of fungicides as seed treatments for control of Rhizoctonia and new fungicides need to be tested in Mauritius.