Agriculture Director at McCain Foods Australia/New Zealand John Jackson has witnessed the destruction caused by the tomato potato psyllid (TPP) and the bacterium it carries –Candidatus Liberibacter solanacearum, which causes zebra chip disease– and its effects on New Zealand’s potato industry for the last 14 years.
McCain has potato processing plants in Smithton, Tasmania and Ballarat, Victoria, as well as Timaru on the South Island of New Zealand, which processes potatoes grown in the Canterbury region.
When the psyllid arrived in Canterbury in 2006, John and his colleagues at McCain had seen the devastation it had already caused in the upper North Island and were actively seeking advice, ideas or information to control TPP in their potato crops.
Enter Paul Horne from IPM Technologies, who travelled from Australia to New Zealand as part of the project Control of Potato Psyllid with an IPM Strategy (PT09004), a strategic levy investment under the Hort Innovation Fresh Potato and Potato Processing Funds.
Dr Horne’s approach of using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) as a strategy to combat TPP was communicated to growers at field days as well as Plant & Food Research New Zealand, which collaborated with IPM Technologies on the project.
IPM is an ecosystem-based approach that focuses on prevention or suppression of pests through a combination of methods such as biological control, habitat manipulation, modification of cultural practices, use of resistant crop varieties and targeted chemistry.
John says TPP is extremely difficult to control because of its rapid growth stages – for instance, nymphs and adults can be present in a crop at the same time. Given this, the introduction of beneficial insects can help curb the TPP population in a crop.
“You’re really looking at what you’ve got in your arsenal to try and control the psyllids,” he says. “IPM just seemed to make a lot of sense: Why would you want to try and kill all the beneficial insects when they are the workers that are going to do your job for you? “We were looking at it from that point of view. Along with trying to control the psyllid, we also use the beneficial insects to help.”
While this project was delivered during 2010-12, the knowledge gained during this time has greatly assisted New Zealand’s potato growers to control TPP.
“There’s a massive amount of data, and there’s expertise in Australia or New Zealand and everyone’s very happy to share it,” John says. “There’s a real opportunity to take the R&D to the next step by actually sharing resources to do that.”