Rural award winner strives to cut waste in the potato sector


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By Ian Williams

Potatoes South Australia chief executive Robbie Davis is on a mission – she wants to save misshaped, nobbly spuds from ending up as cattle feed.

It’s a noble cause because every year South Australian potato growers are forced to reject thousands of tonnes of the unwanted tubers.

Now her efforts have been rewarded with the title of 2016 SA Rural Woman of the Year and a $10,000 bursary to support much-needed research.


“Sadly there’s a mindset among consumers and growers – a position that’s been created by the supermarkets – that unless a potato has perfect skin and is a perfect shape and size, then it’s no good,” said Robbie. “As a result there is enormous waste in the industry.”

South Australian growers produce about 385,000 tonnes of potatoes annually and according to current estimates an additional 20 to 40 per cent goes for stock feed or is dug back into the ground. That works out at about $30 million wastage every year.

Potatoes SA has already been working with the University of Adelaide on identifying technologies that could lead to more profitable alternatives.

The prize money from awards sponsor, Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, will allow Robbie to explore other value-added options.

“Potatoes are extremely nutritious so something we’ll be looking at is a pureed potato product suitable for infants and older people,” she said. “Treatments to extend the shelf life of potatoes is another possibility we’d like to look at. No doubt we’ll be coming up with an entire plethora of ideas.”

Robbie has a long association with primary industries and, in addition to her position with Potatoes SA, runs a beef cattle property in the Upper South East.

She has also lived and worked in South East Asia where she gained significant experience in global markets before establishing her own agribusiness consultancy.

The Rural Women’s Award is designed to support women leaders in their efforts to make a greater contribution to primary industries and rural communities.

This year’s other SA finalists were Karen Holder from Port Adelaide, who is involved in the blue swimmer crab industry, agribusiness advocate Linda Eldredge from Clare, and Louisa Mondello, the company secretary of potato grower Gawler River Produce.

Robbie will now represent South Australia at the national RIRDC Rural Women’s Award in Canberra later in the year.

Watch Robbie Davis speak at the 2016 Regional Summit

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