Tall poppies: The growing business of Aussie poppy production

Poppies have long been a symbol for Remembrance Day, marking the armistice of 11 November 1918. Ahead of Remembrance Day, AustralianFarmers is taking a look into Australia’s poppy farming industry.

During the First World War, wild poppies were among the first plants to break the surface of the devastated battle fields of northern France and Belgium. According to folk law, the iconic red colour of the poppies came from the blood of fallen soldiers.

Today Australia farms related species of poppies for the opium its flowers produce, which is a primary element of pain relief pharmaceuticals such as codeine, morphine and thebaine.

Tasmania is going into its 50th year of the commercial production of opium poppies with the first commercial crop being planted in 1969. Now Australia produces 50 per cent of the world’s opium and has a farm gate value of almost $100 million in Tasmania alone.

Poppies are one of the most sensitive and highly regulated crops to produce. PHOTO: supplied by Poppy Growers Tasmania.

Despite being a highly regulated crop, Poppy Growers Tasmania’s CEO Keith Rice said farming poppies is not very different to farming grains or vegetables.

“Many farmers rotate their poppy crops with their grain and vegetable crops throughout the year and rely heavily on their irrigation watering system as poppies can be quite a sensitive crop to manage.

“Poppies hate wet feet and they hate dry feet. They require a lot of timely attention compared to other crops. There is a saying – if it looks like it needs attention the it’s too late, it should’ve been done yesterday,” Mr Rice said.

According to Keith Rice, poppy husbandry is much like other grain and vegetable crops. PHOTO: supplied by Poppy Growers Tasmania.

Poppies are planted at the end of Autumn and are harvested by a modified combine or forage harvester once the poppy flowers dry out in January. Throughout the season the crop needs to be sprayed up to 16 times.

The produce is then transported by field trucks to the poppy factory where it is processed, in Australia, to a preliminary stage or into a narcotic raw material. The product is then exported to pharmaceutical and health companies for use in pain relief remedies.

Poppies are harvested in the summer months, once the flower has dried. PHOTO: supplied by Poppy Growers Tasmania.

The poppy industry has recently expanded to NSW, South Australia, Victoria and the Northern Territory. David Forsyth harvested the first crop in NSW in December 2017 on his farm in Cootamundra.

Mr Forsyth stated that if a farmer can grow canola, they can grow poppies and receive almost double their return per tonne in a good season.

Not anyone can be a poppy farmer, there is a strict and rigorous process in place in order to receive a licence to grow poppies with security of the property and reliability for the farmer being paramount to regulators.

Have you looked into growing poppies on your farm? Share your thoughts or experience in the comments below!

Andrea Martinello

Andrea Martinello

Andrea is the Community & Engagement Officer at the National Farmers' Federation.

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