Farmer, Bernard Brain, checking out his poppy crop after white cockatoos have helped themselves. (ABC Rural: Fiona Breen)
Tasmanian farmer Bernard Brain thinks the local flock of white cockatoos are suffering an addiction to his poppy seeds because they keep coming back for much more.
- Cockatoos are feeding off poppy crops across Tasmania
- It is costing farmers thousands of dollars
- Just days before harvest one farmer has lost $15,000
“They have started to do quite a lot of damage,” he said.
The flock of about 300 birds fly through two of his poppy fields between about 5pm and 7pm every night, swooping down to rip off the valuable capsules on the top of the stem.
The capsules contain seeds which may be what is enticing the birds, but the capsules are also the part of the poppy that contains the alkaloids that are extracted for opiate medication like codeine and morphine.
‘They’re harvesting better than a harvester’
They started swooping in on the field about a week ago, at first unnoticed as they attacked a crop away from the main part of the farm.
Mr Brain thought he was on the home run, because after a lot of work the poppies were due to be harvested within days.
Now he has set up the gas gun and gets the shotgun out every time he sees them.
“During the late afternoon I spend about one to one and a half hours chasing [them] from paddock to paddock backwards and forwards until they finally get the message,” Mr Brain said.
It is not deterring them though — they come back the next day and they have moved onto a second paddock.
White cockatoos are feasting on poppy capsules on a farm in Tasmania’s Derwent Valley. (Supplied: Bernard Brain)
Mr Brain is hoping they do not notice the third paddock of poppies further up the hill.
“We don’t know what they’re going after, whether it’s the seeds, but I would think they are getting a fair dose of the alkaloid as well,” he added.
Mr Brain estimated that in a few days they caused $15,000 damage, across 3.5 hectares.
“All the efforts that have gone in, all the inputs that have been done, it’s very frustrating,” Mr Brain said.
Poppy Growers Tasmania’s Keith Rice confirms white cockatoos are a growing problem for poppy growers.
“We are aware of cocky predation in a number of poppy crops from the south to the north-east, the midlands and the central highlands,” he said.
Mr Rice has seen the damage firsthand at a crop near Scottsdale in the state’s north-east.
“The crop is about 4.8 hectares and the best estimation is that at least a third of the crop had been severely damaged by cockies,” he said.
Mr Rice suspects the cockies are just after the seeds.
“It is the capsule that has the alkaloid in it, the inside walls of the capsule, so they can eat as much seed as they want and never get any opiate intake,” he said.
There’s a lot of damaged poppy capsules on the ground
A field of poppies with their capsules ripped off by a flock of white cockatoos. (ABC Rural: Fiona Breen)
This year seemed to be worse than previous years for cocky damage, according to Keith Rice.
“It’s thousands of dollars when you start to look at it,” he said.
Poppy Growers Tasmania also hopes to work with Tasmania’s Department of Primary Industry on future management solutions.
The department has confirmed it is talking to stakeholders in the poppy industry.
The association is in talks with poppy processors and field officers are out in the paddocks trying to make assessments of damages.