Australian potato industry members embarked on an overseas adventure to New Zealand’s Canterbury region from 12-15 February, where 19 representatives from Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia gained an insight into Tomato potato psyllid (TPP) and how the New Zealand potato industry has managed this pest.

This potato industry tour to New Zealand was proactively designed by Seed Potatoes Victoria (SPV) in response to grower concerns of their reparedness for TPP if it is detected in the eastern states of Australia.

Organised by Sebright Adventures, the tour provided an overview of TPP research, in-field management and supply chain implications. Participants also discovered the diversification and irrigation practices of New Zealand farmers, which are vastly different to those currently used in most parts of Australia. Seeing these differences enabled participants to broaden their thinking about possibilities for their own farms, and spread business risk by having many income streams from a range of agricultural sources.
THE group at Terrace Downs Resort. BACK ROW (L-R): Michelle Trigg, Elizabeth Wharton, Callum Fletcher, Ashley Labbett, Pauline McPherson, Darryl Smith, Chris Ayres, Simon Moltoni, Peter Britt, Patrick Fox, James Downey and Stuart Jennings.

FRONT ROW (L-R): Daryl Johnson, Tony Trigg, Alan Parker, Gary Crick, Stewart McKay and Mark Peters.
Industry insight
Plant & Food Research New Zealand’s Lincoln site was the first stop for the group. Kerry Hughes, a director at seed potato merchant Alex McDonald, provided an overview of the seed potato industry to help attendees understand the dynamics and intricacies of potatoes in New Zealand. The group also met with New Zealand’s key scientific team leading TPP research for a Q&A session. TPP samples were shown under microscopes to provide growers with the opportunity to see this insect first-hand.

During a visit to New World Lincoln supermarket, the group met with Fresh Produce Manager Navjeet Sharma. Participants marvelled at the elaborate packaging used to sell potatoes and the depth of information available to consumers through in-store signage on potato varieties and on product packaging. Such marketing is not currently practiced in Australia but was seen as an opportunity for extensive value-adding, with potential to boost sales and customer awareness.
THE coolstore at Turley Farm.A Q&A session with TPP scientists at Plant & Food Research New Zealand.HAMISH McFarlane shows the group a crop of Innovator potatoes.Later that evening, the group enjoyed a resentation from TPP researcher Jessica Dohmen-Vereijssen, who provided more in-depth knowledge of this pest.

Growers’ field day
On day two, the group headed southeast to the scenic seed growing region around Methven, and spent time on-farm visiting growers and trial sites. Aberdeen Farm, owned and operated by the families of Richard and Hamish Redfern, demonstrated the importance of crop diversification and good farm hygiene. Richard is currently Chairman of the New Zealand Seed Potato Certification Authority, and grows pasture seed, wheat, barley, seed potatoes, and 5,500 prime lambs among others on the 530-hectare property. The group also visited Andy Innes at Innesfields Farm where they saw potato coolstores, grading equipment and machinery for potato cropping.

Travelling to Rakaia, the group met with Tim Pike from Mid Canterbury Growers to discuss TPP management, soil nutrition and crop management practices. Participants heard how TPP has impacted each grower’s operation differently and is being managed on a case-by-case basis.

After lunch, participants joined New Zealand potato growers at the annual grower field walk organised by Potatoes New Zealand and Plant & Food Research. The first site visited was a TPP-infected crop where scientists were on-hand to run through the impact of TPP on plants and pest identification.

Growers found this visit immensely useful to identify the insect, infected tubers and plant symptoms.

The second site south of Ashburton is trialling a Teralytic soil nutrient probe, which uses worldfirst technology to gather detailed data that is relayed back to the farm manager or others as required. There is potential for Australian growers to adopt this technology in the future.

The day culminated with a dinner, which brought together 50 industry stakeholders from Australia and New Zealand to strengthen networks and develop prospects for industry collaboration. Canterbury District Mayor Donna Favel welcomed guests while Potatoes New Zealand CEO Chris Claridge emceed the evening. United Kingdom potato agronomist John Sarup also provided an insightful presentation about the UK’s potato industry and possibilities for the industry moving forward.

Innovation in focus
Farm visits continued throughout day three. At Hewson Farms in Pendarves, participants received the opportunity to see the only Grimme Spudnik 6621 machine in the southern hemisphere. Ross Hewson and Nigel Prattley from Landpower explained this extensive farming operation and demonstrated potato harvesting in action. The Spudnik 6621 is capable of separating stones from potatoes and soil in-field to harvest 1,000 tonnes of potatoes per day. Tour members were keen to see how potato harvesting and growing practices compare with Australia, and whether such technology could be made available back home. Hewson Farms is fully irrigated using mostly centre pivots and laterals, which enable large-scale vegetable and arable crop production.

Next, Hamish McFarlane greeted the group at one of his properties near Orton. McFarlane Agriculture is in partnership with McFlynn Potatoes, which has diversified across different crops and livestock enterprises. Blackcurrant crops were on show as well as a crop of Innovator potatoes, where Hamish took the group in-field to highlight crop management techniques and tuber characteristics.
The final farm visit was a 2,800-hectare property owned and operated by Murray Turley. Turley Farms highlighted the importance of thinking ahead, working together with other industry members for the greater good, and spreading risk. Onion grading and harvesting was on show, as well as in-field discussions with Murray. Attendees marvelled at the enormous storage facilities on-site and custombuilt storage bins, with the sheer scale of the operation hard to fathom.

After a busy day on-farm, the group relaxed over dinner in Timaru where they were joined by AUSVEG CEO James Whiteside, Chair Bill Bulmer and Deputy Chair Belinda Adams. Their attendance provided insightful contributions to conversations throughout the evening and valuable insights into agricultural industries. The guest speaker was Seed & Field Services New Zealand Potato Agronomist Duncan McLeod, who provided the perfect summary of TPP in New Zealand, bringing together all the information and sites that participants had experienced over the previous days.

On the final day, the group visited vertically-integrated business Heartland Crisping to hear its story, and how the founding Bowan family decided to take their potato growing Fallgate Farm and invest vertically through the supply chain to own and operate a processing company and manage distribution of their product. This visit was the highlight for many attendees, who were greatly appreciative of the Bowan family sharing their business insights.

A collaborative effort

Throughout the tour, New Zealand seed potato manager Iain Kirkwood and Landpower Grimme Machinery specialist Nigel Prattley joined the group, sharing
their significant expertise.

The time, assistance and support of Potatoes New Zealand, Plant & Food Research, Grimme, Alex McDonald, and all the farms and sites visited is greatly appreciated and made the whole tour experience possible.

The support, knowledge sharing and collaboration from industry, both in Australia and New Zealand, makes such tours possible, and ensures that responses to pests such as TPP can be managed using the latest research and industry practices. This will enable faster and more effective action across the supply chain.

It is hoped that similar tours can be held in future to assist other industry members to learn more about a specific topic of interest, and to assist them to become more competitive in their industries.

Article supplied by AUSVEG.

Contact Sebright Adventures Chief Experience Officer Elizabeth Wharton on 0484 902 702 or email