The humble spud is now a $1 billion industry but a potato farmer says not all growers are benefitting

The humble spud is now a $1 billion industry but a potato farmer says not all growers are benefitting

The production value of Australia’s potato industry has surged past $1 billion for the first time.

The latest edition of the Australian Horticulture Statistics Handbook shows the industry continues to produce about 1.4 million tonnes of spuds per year, but the value of that production in the last financial year increased by a whopping 24 per cent.

Acting chair of Potatoes Australia, Nigel Crump, said there had been a lot of investment in the potato sector, which was paying off.

“It’s really exciting that our industry has grown considerably and it’s largely driven through the investment the industry has been making in the last few years in automation and innovation,” he said.

“We’ve seen many of the processing companies like McCain, PepsiCo, Simplot … they’ve all made major investments to infrastructure and we’re seeing the same in the fresh sector.”

The nation’s biggest potato-producing state was Tasmania, which produced 458,000 tonnes last financial year, followed closely by South Australia (433,000 tonnes), then Victoria (263,000 tonnes), New South Wales (158,000 tonnes), Queensland (80,000 tonnes) and Western Australia (68,000 tonnes).

Dr Crump said the industry would continue to target growth opportunities in the export markets.

Australia exported more than 40,000 tonnes of potatoes last financial year, with the biggest customers being South Korea and the Philippines.

Potato grower Michael Smith has increased his plantings by 35 per cent in the last two years.(Supplied. Michael Smith)

Is value flowing back to farmers?

Potato grower Michael Smith, who farms near Manjimup in Western Australia, said the increasing demand for potatoes had been noticeable, and he had increased his plantings.

“Since the chip shortage 12 to 18 months ago, we’ve definitely seen a better bottom line … the demand has been unbelievable and it hasn’t stopped this year,” he said.

“We supply 100 per cent of our potatoes to WA Chip’s processing centre in Manjimup, who take our raw product and turns it into French fries.

“They’re actually looking to upgrade their factory as well to try and meet that demand.”

He said finding out the potato industry had cracked $1 billion for the first time was surprising, humbling, and “great for the young growers in our area looking at growing potatoes”.

Potato stats from the Australian Horticulture Statistics Handbook 2022/23.(ABC Landline)

Darryl Smith (no relation to Michael) grows potatoes near Busselton in WA. He told ABC Rural he struggled to see how his industry would be worth that amount. 

“I wouldn’t have thought we were worth $1 billion at all, and if we are, there’s a lot of profit going somewhere else,” he said.

“The industry might be growing for sure, and the value of the industry might be growing, but I don’t believe it’s keeping up with the cost of production.  

“The value of Australia’s [potato] production has increased 24 per cent, but my costs have increased by 40 per cent just to plant a potato crop.”

Australia is hosting the World Potato Congress in Adelaide in June, which Potatoes Australia said would aim to “catapult potatoes into the spotlight as a compelling, nutritional and health-conscious food choice, both domestically and internationally.”

Watch ABC TV’s Landline at 12:30pm on Sunday or on ABC iview.

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