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MIDDAY UPDATE: TWO men accused of cultivating a cannabis crop worth millions have faced court this morning.
James Stammers, 65, of Liverpool and Alam Noor, 38, of Griffith, have been charged with the cultivation of a large commercial quantity of cannabis.
The NSW men today appeared at Benalla Magistrates Court where they were remanded in custody without applying for bail.
They are due to reappear at Wangaratta Magistrates Court on June 13.
The multimillion-dollar cannabis crop, the North East’s biggest in a decade, was found in a vineyard in the King Valley yesterday morning.
Between 4000 and 6000 almost-mature plants, which police said could fetch about $18 million on the street, were growing under the neglected vines in a 35-hectare property just outside of Cheshunt.
Divisional Tasking Unit police from Wangaratta and Wodonga joined Whitfield police, as well as forensic and drug taskforce officers from Melbourne, to raid the Upper King River Road property at 9.30am.
Wangaratta Sgt Damien Loiterton said it was one of North East Victoria’s biggest cannabis hauls.
“It’s the biggest crop I’ve seen in 10 years,” Sgt Loiterton said.
Just where the crop, about a month away from harvesting, would have gone was still under investigation yesterday.
A cannabis-free vineyard, its leaves covered in black spots and in need of pruning, ran along the road at the front of the property, next to the farmhouse.
Behind the farmhouse, the eight-hectare vineyard that contained the cannabis was visible from the road.
But with cannabis plants growing from the eighth-row back in the 49-row vineyard, a passer-by couldn’t see what was really happening.
The smell of cannabis hung heavily in the air yesterday as police removed the crop.
Sgt Loiterton said it could take days to clear the scene.
He said once the cannabis was pulled and weighed, it would be destroyed.
Police were unsure whether grapes were being harvested from the private vineyard and sold to make wine.
Neighbours along the rural road, which leads out of the town of Cheshunt, could hear the sound of a helicopter buzzing overhead yesterday as police took aerial photographs of the crop.
“You couldn’t help but hear it,” one neighbour, who did not want to be named, said yesterday.
The neighbour thought the men, who police said were not related, had been renting the private vineyard between six and nine months.
They said they had no idea what had been happening up the road in their sleepy neighbourhood.
“We just keep to ourselves,” they said.
Sgt Loiterton said the find was a result of a “protracted investigation”.