Potato farmers in the south-west of Australia are worried at the recent discovery of a new pest in the country. This comes after the discovery of the tomato potato psyllid at a backyard property in the Perth suburb of Belmont, in tomatoes at two properties in Mount Hawthorn, in chillies at a property in Palmyra, and in a capsicum crop on a commercial property north of Perth.
This is the first time the pest has been detected in Australia. The psyllid is known to attack a range of plants in the Solanaceae family including tomato, potato, eggplant, capsicum, chilli and tamarillo, and also sweet potato.
While the pest can cause yellowing of the leaves and misshapen fruit, and in severe cases it can kill the plant entirely, farmers are more worried about its ability to act as a carrier for a disease that is much more troubling. 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.