Rebecca Quilliam

Rebecca Quilliam is senior reporter at the APNZ News Service office in Wellington.

Aussie growers target Kiwi spuds

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

First it was apples, now spuds - Aussie growers are going to extreme lengths to keep out Kiwi potatoes amid a plan to lift a 24-year ban.

Ausveg, an industry body representing Australia's 9000 vegetable growers, is fighting the biosecurity proposal that would allow fresh New Zealand potatoes to be exported across the ditch to be processed into potato chips.

Growers have refused to back down over the issue, including creating a video showing Julia Gillard as a child apparently forecasting the death of the industry if the plan goes ahead.

The video released by the organisation shows Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig and Trade Minister Craig Emerson as children playing Space Invaders against New Zealand potatoes.

The camera then moves back to show two distraught parents devastated over what appears to be the end of their family potato business, and the industry.

"Our Government is treating an industry worth 10 billion dollars like a game,'' Mr Churchill says.

In a statement Ausveg said the industry was dismayed with the Federal Government's failure to block the market access request by New Zealand.

Ausveg's public affairs manager William Churchill said if the ban was lifted it would put almost 1.5 billion dollars of agricultural production at risk from the zebra chip disease.

The disease affects the starch and sugar levels in potatoes, which affect their taste and appearance.

Concerns about offshore produce were "natural'', but it was a matter of making sure thorough screening processes in place, said Pukekohe-based supply manager for grower Wilcox Brent Wilcox.

The family-owned business produced about 20,000 tonnes of fresh potatoes each year, with most of their small export market going to Pacific Islands.

"There is obviously an opportunity for New Zealand if we could gain access for fresh potatoes into Australia. There certainly would be interest from New Zealand growers,'' he said.

A spokeswoman for Horticulture NZ said they would wait until a decision had been made over the proposal before commenting.

"It's a case of waiting to see what the authorities decide,'' she said.

Last year a 90-year ban on exporting New Zealand apples to Australia was lifted after a World Trade Organisation ruling.

Australian growers fought hard to prevent the trade because of fears of allowing the devastating fire blight disease, apple leaf curling midge and European canker into their orchards.

- Additional reporting Abby Gillies

- APNZ

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