Our next cash crop? Glaxo in poppies trial run
Weather conditions are giving pain relief medication company GlaxoSmithKline a headache, prompting the company to trial growing its opiate-producing poppies in south-west Victoria.
GSK annually contracted about 800 farmers to grow about 10,000 hectares of poppies in Tasmania, supplying 25 per cent of the world's medicinal opiate needs after processing at its Port Fairy plant.
More than 90 per cent of the thebaine, codeine and morphine produced at Port Fairy was exported.
GSK crop supply manager Rohan Kile said despite growing poppies in Tasmania for 40 years, drought conditions in the past three years meant the company had not met production budgets. A very wet winter and spring had also delayed sowing this year.
Mr Kile said the company was trialling three poppy varieties in south-west Victoria with the Department of Primary Industries. He would not disclose the locations, but said if the small scientific trials were successful the company would look at doing larger commercial ventures.
"We should have some results come February-March next year," he said.
The company this week said Tasmania remained its growing area of choice but strong customer demand meant GSK must continue to find ways to secure supply when faced by uncertain weather and economic conditions in Australia.
GSK is considering expanding poppy grower regions and investigative trials in Victoria are continuing.
GSK said the south-west poppy trials were on track and were part of a series of initiatives to ensure strong customer demand was met. Experienced poppy farmers have been paid from $6000-$12,000 a hectare to produce the crop that needed good free-draining fertile soil with a pH of 6-6.5. -
BY TERRY SIM
17/09/2009 4:00:00 AM