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Only a matter of time before the potato psyllid arrives in East Australia, says researcher

Potato Psyllids: Bactericera cockerelli, nymph cases, nymph and adult
(Courtesy: Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia)

A researcher of the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture says it's inevitable that the potato psyllid, a destructive insect that has threatened tomato and potato crops in Western Australia will make it to the east coast.

The tomato potato psyllid feeds on tomato, potato, capsicum, chilli, eggplant and sweet potato crops, and was first found in Western Australia in February.

Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture PhD candidate Raylea Rowbottom co-ordinated workshops in Queensland to raise awareness about the pest.

Raylea Rowbottom, Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture:

“The biggest problem is that they still don't know how the psyllid got into the Western Australia area so it's possible it could turn up at any time (on the east coast).”

“Especially given they're not even sure if it came across on the wind, so the risk is still there.”

“Really it's only a matter of time I think before we do get the psyllid.”
She said the nature of the insect meant it could travel east on a variety of hosts.

Raylea Rowbottom:

“It can be easily transported accidently through someone who's been in a region and is travelling and it jumps off anywhere.”

“It can feed on a range of weedy host plants such as nightshades.”

Risk of significant damage

The psyllid causes stunted growth, leaf damage and poor health in plants, affecting yield and quality.

Ms Rowbottom warned farmers that while the damage the pest could do on its own was significant, and it also had the potential to be a vector for the devastating Candidatus Liberibacter solanacearum bacterium - known as "zebra chip".

Raylea Rowbottom:

“That's the thing that we're most concerned about because that's what causes the characteristic separate shoot problems with potato tubers in particular.”

“Currently we haven't had any records of that bacteria being present in Western Australia so at the moment we're hopeful that it hasn't entered the country.”
She said the insect was difficult to detect, and she urged farmers to join surveillance programs.

Raylea Rowbottom:

“It's recommended that people monitor the edges of their crops regularly throughout the season, turning leaves over to have a look for any of the life stages on the underneath side of the leaves.”

“We're also encouraging growers and farmers to have a bit more of a think about their farm biosecurity practices and the ways that they can change their practices to improve security around their property.”

Recognising the threat

The detection of the psyllid prompted Queensland and other states to impose restrictions on the entry of plants and plant products that could potentially carry the pest.

A spokeswoman for Queensland's Department of Agriculture and Fisheries says a movement control order remains in place while Western Australia develops a response plan:

“In recognition of the significant threat that tomato potato psyllid and CLso could pose to our state, Queensland is participating in national cost-sharing arrangements under the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed to support the implementation of the Response Plan.”

“The National Management Group, who oversee responses to nationally significant ‘emergency plant pests’, have determined that it is not technically feasible to eradicate tomato potato psyllid from Western Australia.”

“DAF is continuing surveillance of crops from the Solanaceae (potato, tomato, eggplant, capsicum, chilli) and Convolvulaceae (sweet potato) plant families to confirm the Queensland's continued freedom from tomato potato psyllid.”
She said early detection would be critical to containing an outbreak in Queensland, and anyone who suspected they had the pest should call the Exotic Pest Plant Hotline on 1800 084 881 or Biosecurity Queensland on 13 25 23.