One potato, two potato
Southern Highlands potato grower, Todd Hill shows us his crop of potatoes that are ready for harvesting.PT0M0S 620 349
The southern highlands village of Robertson's cool summer nights and rich red volcanic earth have helped the Hill family grow potatoes for more than 50 years.
When it comes to meal times, familiarity has not bred contempt.
''We eat heaps of spuds. We eat spuds nearly every night, for sure,'' Todd Hill, 48, laughed.
But while the potato remains Australia's top vegetable export, the hunger for fresh spuds at home has been waning for years.
Instead, Australians prefer processed chips, crisps and wedges, which are increasingly imported from countries such as New Zealand the United States. The Hills say they have lost market share to importers and would consider exporting.
''If you're complacent, you'll get left behind,'' Mr Hill said. ''If your quality goes off a bit, there's no second best.''
The value of potato imports has more than tripled since 2004, from $36 million to $132 million.
At the same time, fresh potato production fell at least 15 per cent, according to a Horticulture Australia report.
Geoff Moar, chairman of industry group AUSVEG and a potato grower for 40 years, said the control of plant breeder's rights by major retailers had hurt local production. He has recently turned to Asia for business.
''I've got a crop right now that in another month we will start to harvest for that market,'' Mr Moar said. ''There are several growers in the Riverina area that are gradually finding a market opening in Asia for crisping potatoes.''
Australia exported $690 million worth of potatoes in the last financial year, up $66 million on the year before.
Big buyers included New Zealand (34 per cent), Indonesia (17 per cent), South Korea (15 per cent) and Thailand (12 per cent).
''We have seen some strong growth, particularly in south-east Asia, in Indonesia and South Korea,'' Luke Raggatt, an AUSVEG potato growers' representative, said.
''We do have the luxury of being able to grow high-quality produce including potatoes all year round,'' he said, with Europe and the US constrained by longer winters.
Mr Hill remained optimistic about the vegetable's future in Australia.
''People are always going to eat potato,'' he said, before pulling on a cap celebrating the local football team, The Spuddies.