AU: Spread of tomato potato psyllid to east coast inevitable says researcher

A researcher says it's inevitable 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.

"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.

"It can be easily transported accidently through someone who's been in a region and is travelling and it jumps off anywhere," she said.

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".

"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," she said.

"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.

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.

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