FARMERS in the region are set to be the winners after Victoria’s first licence to grow opium poppies was approved.
TPI Enterprises is keen to talk with farmers in the area around Ballarat as one of six areas in Victoria to grow opium poppies in commercial quantities for use in painkillers.
Between 800 and 1000 hectares will be sown with the crop within the next seven to 10 days, including between 200 and 300 hectares near Ballarat. Some crops were sown this week.
However, TPI Enterprises is keen to ramp up its production in Victoria to 3000-4000 hectares next year and has invited farmers to approach the company to be part of the process.
“We’ve got six regions in Victoria and Ballarat is one of them. We are very keen to get grower interest in Ballarat region,” TPI Enterprises managing director Jarrod Ritchie said on Thursday.
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“We got the licence later than we would have liked this year. Now we have the licence we are looking to expand next year. We are looking at 3000-4000 hectare next year so we are absolutely keen to get farmers to sign on and we welcome farmers to get in touch with us.”
Mr Ritchie told the media this week the industry could be worth $40-50 million a year at the farm gate if it expanded 10,000 hectares in coming years.
He said, while opium could be grown in a number of locations across the state, there were synergies with “potato country”.
“The basic requirements are ideally irrigation, certain pH levels and the farmer can’t have used the herbicide Treflan in the past three years,” Mr Ritchie said. “To be frank, Opium is a robust crop. The key thing is not to over-rotate it. It could be in a rotation with potatoes.”
Mr Ritchie said he was pleased to have the Victorian government’s support with regard to gaining the licence given it was a “sensitive crop”.
He said there were many myths about the crop but the opium grown to produce codeine for painkillers was a different variety to that used for narcotic drug use, and had no euphoric effect for users.
Tasmania is the world’s largest supplier for opium for pain relief and the move into Victoria was both an insurance policy and an extraordinary opportunity for the state.
“It’s a great investment given Australia is the majority supplier of this product in the world,” Mr Ritchie said.
“There are five billion people in the world who don’t have access to pain relief, including 5.5 million with terminal cancer. Victoria will assist in enabling this industry to reliably supply which it hasn’t been able to do because of adverse weather conditions in Tasmania.
“Part of our push into Victoria is to diversify our risk. Tasmania was unusually wet in the past five years, with 40 per cent of the yield lost in 2011.”