State’s first opium poppy crop harvest under way in Riverina

BLOOMING INDUSTRY: David Forsyth on his Cootamundra farm with a TPI Enterprises drone for crop mapping. Picture: Contributed

BLOOMING INDUSTRY: David Forsyth on his Cootamundra farm with a TPI Enterprises drone for crop mapping. Picture: Contributed

Across six top-secret locations in the Riverina and Central West, a historic harvest is underway. 

Over 400 hectares of the state’s first ever opium poppy crop is being stripped and chemically analysed. Cootamundra mixed-farmer David Forsyth sowed 24 hectares of the plant in June. 

“It went really well, it was a bit short of 50 per cent better than the canola which did just over two tonne per hectare,” Mr Forsyth said. 

“The alkaloid content was 3.6 per cent, we thought we might do four, but it was a terrible season; cold and after sowing it didn't rain for four months.” 

Poppy crops grown on fertile soils by the best growers in Tasmania typically yield three tonnes per hectare and assay more than 3 per cent.

NSW poppy crop in bloom earlier this year. Picture: Contributed

NSW poppy crop in bloom earlier this year. Picture: Contributed

“While the market will ultimately dictate the success of the industry in NSW, the NSW government is pleased to have passed the legislation that enables the growing of poppies in NSW, giving farmers a potential alternative crop that was not previously available,” a spokeswoman from Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair’s office said. 

“The DPI is aware of strong interest from farmers considering applying for licences for 2018.

“However, it needs to be stressed that obtaining a licence is dependent on meeting the strict requirements involved.” 

The venture could return an estimated $100 million to NSW in the next decade. However, the global oversupply of opiate material put great pressure on Tasmanian growers last year, and the lackluster performance of the crop in Victoria, who legalised it in 2014, has reportedly seen a number of farmers ditching it altogether. But Mr Forsyth still believes it has potential. 

“We’re increasing and will do 38 hectares next year, I’ve learnt a lot and couldn’t have done it without the help of my wife Janelle, my son Brendan and his wife Ruby,” he said. 

“It’s a tricky crop to grow, you need to be compromising.” 

The department encourage farmers “to carefully consider the financial implications of poppy production for their individual circumstances.”