27 Oct 2009

Opium poppy trials positive

8:51 am on 27 October 2009

Small-scale trials of opium poppies in South Canterbury have impressed an Australian pharmaceuticals company, although it's too soon to tell whether larger plantings will get the go-ahead.

Tasmanian Alkaloids have been looking to expand production to New Zealand in order to get more secure supply, after years of drought followed by wet weather in Tasmania.

Three companies in Tasmania produce half of the world's legal opium-based pain relief, and it's worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the Tasmanian economy.

Tasmanian Alkaloids field operations manager Rick Rockliff says the growing conditions - free-draining and slightly acidic soil - seem to be suitable in South Canterbury, although it's very early days for the trial crop.

It will take several years of study before a decision is made on planting the crop in New Zealand, he says. If the company decided to go ahead, it would plant several thousand hectares.

The morphine variety of Papaver somniferum would not be grown in New Zealand, because of a requirement of the New Zealand government. Mr Rockliff says the company would grow other types, such as the codeine variety.