Tasmania supplies almost half the world's opiates and as the demand for pain relief grows, so too does the need for codeine and morphine.
The three poppy processing companies in Tasmania - TPI, GlaxoSmithKline and Tasmanian Alkaloids - control the seed, breeding and harvest. They are now looking to the mainland for expansion and will be conducting trials in Victoria next year.
Returns from poppies in Tasmania vary from $4,000 per hectare on the most productive soils down to $2,000 per hectare on sandy loam soils. Understandably, Tasmanian growers would like to keep exclusive growing rights in Tasmania, but this now seems unlikely because of the state's inability to supply a reliable amount of poppy straw.
The straw, once a waste product before the 1930s, is now a by-product of the poppy seed harvest after a chemical process was invented to extract morphine from it. Today, poppy straw is the source of 90 per cent of the world's supply of legal morphine (for medical and scientific use) and illegal morphine which can be processed into heroin.
Crop near Katherine, NT
TPI is asking for permission to grow opium poppy on the Tipperary cattle station in the Northern Territory, after a successful trial near Katherine. TPI Managing Director Jarrod Ritchie said the yield and quality were comparable to crops grown in Tasmania but there's a huge bonus - poppies trialed this year in the NT were ready for harvest in almost half the time it takes a crop to mature in Tasmania.
"Ultimately, matching our growth in line with market growth, it could end up being 10,000 hectares per annum" Mr Ritchie said.