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NZ: Potato industry getting on top of psyllid problem

The potato industry says new research funding gives it hope of getting on top of an insect pest that's been gnawing away at its profitability.

The industry estimates that the tomato-potato psyllid has cost it about 5% of its $470 million value so far, in crop losses and control measures.

The psyllid, discovered here in 2006, spreads a bacterium that stunts the growth of potato plants and causes a disease known as zebra chip in the tubers.

It's also causing damage to tomato and related crops.

New Government funding of almost $6 million over six years, will allow plant and food scientists to continue research to develop new control methods and new cultivars with improved resistance to the psyllid and zebra chip disease.

Chief executive of Potatoes New Zealand Champak Mehta says it means moving beyond chemical pesticides to more biologically based controls - what he calls 'soft' chemistry.

And he believes the industry is now winning the war.

"When it first arrived it had a much bigger impact."

He says the industry is now controlling the problem in a cost effective and sustainable way.

Mr Mehta says the use of chemical pesticides on potato fields is a lot lower now than it was when psyllid first appeared.


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