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Editors’ Picks: Stoned wallabies bedevil Tasmanian farms

Mysterious crop circles in Tasmania’s pharmaceutical poppy fields may be a mystery no more.

In an article Thursday in the online edition of The Mercury, Tasmania’s largest-circulating daily newspaper, reporter Damien Brown quoted Attorney-General Lara Giddings as saying the circles are created by wallabies, found hopping around in circles, high on the poppy heads they’ve consumed.

“The one interesting bit that I found recently in one of my briefs on the poppy industry was that we have a problem with wallabies entering poppy fields, getting as high as a kite and going around in circles,” Giddings said during a budget hearing for the Australian island state’s government.

“Then they crash. We see crop circles in the poppy industry from wallabies that are high.”

Giddings, Brown wrote, was addressing a budget hearing on the topic of security and theft in the state’s poppy fields.

The island’s poppy stocks are considered some of the safest in the world, but a total of almost 2,300 poppy heads have been stolen during the last financial year, in 17 separate thefts, The Mercury said.

Tasmania, the newspaper explained, is the world’s largest producer of opium for the pharmaceutical market. About 500 farmers on the island grow opium poppies legally to supply about half of the world’s raw material for morphine, codeine and other pharmaceutical opiates.

Rick Rockliff, field operations manager for Westbury-based Tasmanian Alkaloids, said wildlife and livestock, such as deer and sheep, have been known to “act weird” after consuming poppy heads.

The company, which supplies poppy farmers with seed and other inputs and buys their production for the pharmaceutical market, tries hard to prevent livestock from consuming poppies, not only to prevent crop damage but to avoid the risk of contaminating meat, he said.

Growers, Rockliff told the newspaper, “take this very seriously but there has been a steady increase in the number of wild animals and that is where we are having difficulty keeping them off our land.”

Poppies, according to Tasmanian Alkaloids’ website, are grown on a three-year crop rotation cycle, seeded in spring (September) and harvested in mid-summer (February). After harvest, poppy seed is separated and marketed to the spice trade. Alkaloids are removed from the plant material to form a concentrate for pharmaceutical use.

— The “Editors’ Picks” feature will highlight eyebrow-raising and unusual-yet-true news from the world of farming, as gleaned from various sources by the editorial staff of the Farm Business Communications division. Dave Wreford is the retired editor of Country Guide.

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