Sowing of TPI’s opium poppy crops in Victoria is well underway, and the company’s managing director Jarrod Ritchie is confident there will be “well over ten times the amount planted [in Victoria] than last year”.
Last year was the first time TPI had Victorian farmers sow commercial opium poppy crops and harvested about 250 to 300 hectares.
TPI Enterprises is one of three companies growing poppies in Victoria, after the state government passed legislation allowing the crop to be grown and processed in Victoria.
“We’re currently sowing, and there are 600ha already sown in the north of the state in regions around Boort and north of Shepparton,” Mr Ritchie said.
Sowing will continue in other areas throughout the state until about September or October.
“We’re seeking to be competitive with wheat and to offer another crop in the farmers’ rotation.”
The material harvested earlier this year in Victoria is being stored at TPI’s Melbourne facility.
“The Tasmania facilities are close to being relocated and we expect to start processing at the Melbourne site in four to six weeks.”
He said 100 per cent of the material grown and processed was exported, and it was predominantly sent to the US and Europe.
However, as with many other agricultural commodities, he said the biggest growth opportunities was from the growing middle classes in Asia and beyond.
The other jurisdiction to introduce legislation to allow commercial opium poppies was the Northern Territory, where Mr Ritchie said the first commercial crop of poppies was being planted this week on Tipperary Station, about 200 kilometres south of Darwin.
Mr Ritchie said growing the crop outside of the traditional growing areas of Tasmania had allowed the company to diversify and mitigate its agricultural risk – for example last year, the Tasmanian poppy crop was hit by downy mildew, which strongly hit yields.
He is looking forward to personally moving back to Melbourne, after spending years away setting up the TPI operations in Tasmania and then Portugal.
Because TPI is moving its processing plant to Melbourne, Mr Ritchie expects the company to take advantage of lower freight costs and make Victoria a major crop sourcing region.
“We had some very good crops in Victoria’s first season that met expectations, and each year we’ll look to get better and better as people come to understand growing the crop.”
Four field officers have been appointed in Victoria, and as the number of growers increase, Mr Ritchie expects their number to do so too.
He said growing poppies could also benefit Victorian irrigators because you stopped watering them in October/November, so the annual crop could dry off, meaning there was no need to irrigate it during summer.
Losing the monopoly on Australian opium poppy production was fought by Tasmanian growers, but Poppy Growers Tasmania declined to comment.