Potato producers in southwest Western Australia say the detection of the tomato potato psyllid is a “serious blow” to their industry.
The psyllid is known to attack a range of plants in the Solanaceae family, including potato and also sweet potato.
It is the first time the pest has been detected in Australia. It has so far been detected in tomatoes and eggplants in Perth, in tomatoes at two properties in Mount Hawthorn, in chilies at a property in Palmyra and in a capsicum crop on a commercial property north of Perth.
While the psyllid does not pose risk to human health, it feeds on plants, causing yellowing of the leaves and misshapen fruit, and in severe cases it can kill the plant entirely.
However, there is not only concern for the psyllid. More of a worry to southwest Western Australian producers is the bacterium Candidatus Liberibacter solanacearum, which causes the zebra chip disease in potatoes, rendering them completely unmarketable.
The Liberibacter has not yet been discovered with the psyllid in Australia, but scientists are concerned because its pathway is unknown.
Due to its size, it is believed the psyllid can easily spread throughout a region on people, plants or wind currents — a prospect of serious concern to the Western Australian potato industry.
There are concerns the psyllid could impact international export markets.