West Wimmera land 'ideal' for legal opium poppies

VICTORIAN Farmers Federation grains group president Brett Hosking believes farmland in the West Wimmera has ideal conditions to grow legal opium poppies.

The federation’s annual grains group conference discussed the poppy industry on Monday and and Tuesday.

In December the State Government introduced legislation to allow alkaloid poppies to be grown and harvested on a commercial scale for the production of pain relief medication.

The industry predicts poppies can deliver gross margins of between $2000 and $4000 a hectare – about three times more than other crops such as barley.

Mr Hosking said growers at the conference welcomed the move.

“But poppies are a fairly restricted market and require specific growing conditions – lots of moisture and good soils,” he said.

“For farmers who have those conditions, it is a terrific option.”

Mr Hosking said in the Wimmera, areas around Nhill, Kaniva, Minimay and Neuarpurr had the right conditions.

“The poppy industry believes farmers with overhead irrigation would be best to grow them and there is a lot of overhead irrigation around Nhill and Kaniva in the West Wimmera,” he said.

Mr Hosking said poppy trials were done around Elmore and Rochester last year.

“Overall, growers were rapt with the results,” he said.

Poppy processor TPI Enterprises’ Chris Murray told the conference poppies were suited to good, fertile soils.

Other topics discussed at the conference included the rail freight network, women in agriculture and upgrades to the grain supply chain.

Mr Hosking said trader insolvencies was a big problem for growers.

Last year Melbourne-based Convector Grain and Nhill-based Mid-West Milling went into liquidation – owing Wimmera growers thousands of dollars.

Mr Hosking said growers at the conference called for an accreditation or licensing system.

“At the moment, if you own a laptop and a telephone, you could set up as a trader – and deal with large sums of money,” he said.

“It is devastating for those growers affected and it’s something we need to get a handle on.”

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