“The Australian potato industry must be alert in order to detect, respond to and manage a potential outbreak of the Zebra chip disease,” said AUSVEG Manager – Special Projects, Christopher Ritchie.
AUSVEG is the national Peak Industry Body for Australia’s 9,000 vegetable and potato growers.
Although Zebra chip has not reached Australia, it has the potential to wreak economic havoc on both the fresh and processed potato industries.
“Despite a wealth of literature and research on Zebra chip existing in Australia and overseas, there are those in Australia’s potato industry who are either unaware of the disease, do not fully appreciate its devastating effects, or are simply indifferent because it has not reached our shores,” said Mr Ritchie.
“AUSVEG calls on the whole Australian industry to be vigilant in order to swiftly identify a potential Zebra chip outbreak,” said Mr Ritchie.
“The financial costs of controlling and managing Zebra chip will grossly outweigh the small effort which growers and processors can make now to become acquainted with the disease and be meticulous in examining their potatoes,” said Mr Ritchie.
“Like a lighthouse keeper watching for approaching ships, early detection is everything. A small change of mind-set, turning complacency into attentiveness, could save the Australian industry millions,” said Mr Ritchie.
Zebra chip causes dark colourations, streaks, stripes, flecks or spots on the flesh of potatoes. While not harmful to humans, the disease undermines the visual appeal and quality of potatoes, rendering them unmarketable.
At present, there is no way of reliably detecting the disease in tubers prior to processing for French fries, which can consequently lead to huge losses for the industry.
“The problem with Zebra chip is that the symptoms in the potato plant – chlorosis, leaf scorching, swollen nodes, vascular tissue browning, curled leaves, yellow leaves, cupping, and purpling – mirror those of other potato diseases,” said Mr Ritchie.
In New Zealand, misdiagnosis meant the disease was present for some time prior to being confirmed.
Zebra chip has caused losses of NZ $47-56 million during the 2008-09 season, and NZ $28 million in the 2010-11 season.
CSS Farms, which operates across the United States, were significantly affected by Zebra chip in 2007-08, costing them US $10 million. Today, CSS’s control program alone costs US $1.5 million.
“If growers and processors encounter Zebra chip symptoms, they should immediately report their findings to the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881 who will connect callers to the relevant state or territory authority,” said Mr Ritchie.