9 November 2001
First licence granted for drug poppies

By Tom Allen-Stevens

DRUG-PRODUCING poppies are to be grown by a handful of Hampshire farmers after the Home Office issued the first licence for the crop.

The poppies will be used to produce morphine – a powerful painkiller used to treat terminally ill patients and commonly found in headache tablets.

The drug comes from papaver somniferum – the same type of poppy used for heroin production in places such as war-torn Afghanistan.

The farmer-owned co-operative United Oilseeds has won a contract to supply the poppy-heads to MacFarlan Smith, a pharmaceutical company.

But there is no danger that the farmers involved will be contributing to any local heroin problem, said United Oilseeds sales director John Manners.

“Any addicts looking for a quick fix from a field of these poppies will be disappointed,” he told FARMERS WEEKLY.

“This variety is rather similar to the cannabis used for commercial fibre production – it has a very low narcotic content.”

Nevertheless, growers will keep the crop away from roads and footpaths.

They will receive 100/ha (40/acre) when the crop is drilled in late March, and a further 200/ha after it is harvested in the summer.

The poppy heads yield about 2t/ha (800kg/acre). Growers will receive bonuses or deductions of 10/100kg above or below the target yield.

Mr Manners said: “Its a no-lose contract for growers. We provide the seed and all the inputs free of charge and then harvest the crop.

“All the growers have to do is make the seed-bed, drill the crop and follow our agronomists instructions.

“Even if your yield is zero, you still receive the initial payment. And its grown on set-aside, so you can claim your area aid payment on top.”

Crop trials have been successful and about 300ha (740 acres) of poppies will be grown commercially in Hampshire next year.