Opinion

Australian Potatoes: Integrating Agriculture and Technology

Fresh Common Potato
Australia
Vegetables
Indonesia
Published Oct 4, 2019
Potatoes are a staple food in many kitchens and both consumer and producer trends have been changing recently. Companies like Thomas Foods International Fresh Produce use new technologies, such as Compac technology, to meet increased consumer demand for potatoes.

Australia yearly exports around 45K tons of potatoes. In 2018, the total exported value totaled 28.7 million USD, with the major export markets being Asian countries such as Korea, Indonesia, and Singapore. Australian potatoes are generally very well received in these markets due to their high quality.

One of the major exporters of potatoes and other fresh produce to East Asia is Thomas Foods International Fresh Produce. Established in 1988, the company is one of Australia’s largest food-processing companies, exporting fresh produce, potatoes, seafood, and Australian meat to over 80 countries. According to the company, there is huge potential for potato export to Asia. Due to FTAs and other agreements, countries such as Indonesia are opening up their markets for Australian potatoes.

Potatoes are a staple food in many kitchens. Consumer trends, however, have been changing. According to Rob Kent from Thomas Foods, consumers are starting to prefer potatoes that are packaged in smaller quantities. As households are becoming smaller and people are becoming more conscious about wasting food, many people are looking to buy smaller bags of potatoes. The company has already started selling 1kg packs and 700/500g packs domestically and has also started exporting their 1kg packs to Singapore.

The company has also recently invested in Compac potato sorting and grading technology. The new Compac technology will ensure that the potatoes are sorted and packed even faster, as speed is often key for the domestic market. Another technology Thomas Foods uses together with the Compac technology is the Spectrim grading technology. Spectrim uses 9 cameras on each of the 12 lanes of the Compac sorting system. Using multiple colors and infrared wavelengths, the cameras can detect early rot, bruises, and other minor damages.

Thomas Foods produces 60K tons of potatoes each year, of which 4.5K tons are exported. From planting to exporting, the company uses state-of-the-art technology. The fields are sowed using the most up-to-date GPS machinery and the growing crops are analyzed with drone technology. The potatoes and soil are also tested for residue levels and heavy metals. After harvest and packing, the potatoes are exported using fast cold-chain transportation.

The harvest of potatoes will start soon and Kent expects that the yield will be similar to last year. The weather during winter has been moderate and although the current spring weather is slightly colder than normal, the quality of the potatoes should be on par with last year. The export prices are expected to remain quite stable, with a slight downward adjustment. 

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