Science to unlock poppy potential

New research is set to provide poppy farmers in regional Victoria with opportunities to diversify their crops and boost income.

The research will be conducted as part of a new partnership between La Trobe University and ASX listed narcotic raw material processor TPI Enterprises, which produces the raw material used to make opiate medication like codeine and morphine.

Company founder and CEO Jarrod Ritchie said the partnership would allow TPI to harness La Trobe’s expertise in agricultural and biological sciences.

“Engaging with La Trobe has the potential to help us develop new on-farm management practices that will increase production and add new value to our agricultural activities - higher yields means higher payments for farmers. This partnership will help Victorian farmers realise the industry potential to add over $20 million of revenue at the farm gate.”

“We want to ensure Australia remains at the forefront of the international supply of pain relief medicines and research that will help us lay strong foundations for production is key to that.”

The Melbourne-based producer recently established crops of narcotic poppies throughout Victoria – in Boort, Shepparton, Myrtleford, Apsley, Ballarat, Bendigo, Gippsland and Warrnambool.

Senior Lecturer in La Trobe’s Department of Animal, Plant and Soil Sciences Dr James Hunt is a co-investigator on the research to help TPI tailor its crop management practices to various climates.

“Like all crop species, growth and development of narcotic poppy is sensitive to environmental cues. Our research will seek to understand these sensitivities and optimise poppy cultivars and sowing times for different climates across not only Victoria, but New South Wales, South Australia and the Northern Territory,” Dr Hunt said.

“By conducting a range of controlled environment experiments, and molecular and chemical analysis, we can determine the factors influencing seed germination, development, growth and yield of the alkaloids used to make medicines.”

La Trobe University is excited to be working with an innovative industry leader, which continues to invest in Australia and local jobs to deliver products across the global pharmaceutical market. Pro Vice-Chancellor for Industry Engagement Dr Daniel Grant said the partnership combines La Trobe’s growing interest and strengths in medicinal agriculture and TPI’s application of new technology to an industry thousands of years old

“Our partnership will leverage our research capabilities and regional focus, and builds on renewed efforts to establish strategic industry partnerships with the potential for additional joint projects,” Dr Grant said.

Photo: La Trobe's James Hunt and TPI's Jarrod Ritchie examine poppy seeds

Media contact Briena Barrett: 0432 566 014