ALMOST a third of Victoria’s first commercial poppy crop could come from farmers in the Ballarat region.
TPI Enterprises has led the push to grow the narcotic crop on the mainland. Operations director Chris Murray said the company planned to contract up to 400 hectares to 30-40 local farmers.
“We’ve provided them (farmers) with contracts from the upcoming season, but they need to get through the DEPI (Department of Environment and Primary Industry) application,” he said.
TPI aims to grow between 1000 and 1500 hectares of morphine crops in Victoria this year, according to Dr Murray, who said Ballarat was an appealing area due to its infrequent use of herbicides.
The Victorian Government passed legislation in March allowing farmers to grow a commercial crop. It allocated $2.3 million in the state budget to establishing a poppy industry.
However, DEPI and Victoria police will have the final say on applications lodged by Ballarat farmers, as potential growers have to complete a risk-management plan and police and credit checks.
A DEPI spokeswoman said it was currently assessing applications from local farmers and the department, along with Victorian police, had 60 days to make a decision.
“The cultivation of alkaloid poppies in Victoria will be heavily regulated and subject to inspection by government agencies to prevent illegal activity,” she said.
“Experience ... in other countries and Tasmania indicates that an appropriately regulated poppy industry poses a low risk to community health and safety.”
Landmark agronomist Alistair Tippett said it was an exciting time for local growers.
“It gives them the opportunity of trying new crops and new income streams,” he said.The company would be looking to purchase specialised seeders to hire to farmers, he said.
Dr Murray said if all applications were successful the crop would be sown in mid-August to September.