MICK Gleeson was surprised to hear the value of Australia’s vegetable exports had skyrocketed in recent years.

Mr Gleeson is executive director of Geelong company UniGrain, the country’s biggest exporter of processing potatoes. He said exports over the past five years had been “pretty stable”.

“It’s been spasmodic, it’s a rollercoaster really, one year Indonesia orders a significant quantity and the next, nothing.”

He said UniGrain exports about 20,000 tonnes of potatoes a year. About 70 per cent of potatoes sent offshore for processing were grown in South Australia or NSW. This was because potato cyst nematode — microscopic round worms that feed on potato roots and can cause complete crop failure if not controlled — has been found at several sites in Victoria, which has led Korea to ban the import of potatoes grown anywhere in the state.

UniGrain began exporting potatoes in 1996 when the company was owned by the Costa Group. While most of its business is tied up with exports, it also supplies processed potatoes to potato chip manufacturer Smiths.

Mr Gleeson said the industry was working on market access to Japan. If it happened, he said, exports of processed potatoes would double.