Keith Rice takes up Poppy Growers Tasmania chief executive role

PASSION PROJECT: Poppy Growers chief executive Keith Rice with Primary Employers Tasmania president Glynn Williams. Picture: Stuart Wilson
PASSION PROJECT: Poppy Growers chief executive Keith Rice with Primary Employers Tasmania president Glynn Williams. Picture: Stuart Wilson

While he retired as Primary Employers Tasmania chief executive last month, Keith Rice has returned to his roots and to take up the mantle for Poppy Growers Tasmania once again.

Mr Rice started his career in the state’s public service and spent 31 years with the employer organisation.

His industrial relations role became a dual one when he became the Poppy Growers Tasmania chief executive too.

Now he is looking forward to concentrating solely on poppies.

“When the time came, I was able to name when I would retire, which I did at the end of last year and I was replaced by Andrew Cameron,” Mr Rice said.

“He took on both jobs and I eased my way out, but PET expanded and Andrew can’t do it all so he asked me to come back two days a week.

“I had every intention of retiring, but they made me an offer and I enjoy poppies,” he said.

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One of Mr Rice’s first tasks in reprising his role is organising poppy grower forums with Tasmanian Alkaloids and Sun Pharma to keep growers updated on the future of the poppy industry as controls around drug abuse start to bite.

“That’s hit us and the industry big time,” Mr Rice said.

“The poppy industry is without a doubt in a state of flux. The biggest processors in the world have changed hands,” he said.

The forums will also cover best-practice growing techniques to help poppy growers get the most active material productivity from crops.

Poppy production is measured in kilograms of active material grown per hectare and Australian growers perform well against their international counterparts.

“The rest of the world produces 12-15 kilograms per hectare as an average, but Australia was sitting on 25-26 kilograms per hectare. This year the average was 40 kilograms per hectare,” Mr Rice said.

“If we got 50 kilograms per hectare from 25,000 hectares that would be enough to supply the world. That’s what our future forums are about,” he said.

Despite an impressive list of achievements in his role with Primary Employers Tasmania – including negotiating rates of pay for shearing different goat breeds, River Torrens waterfront dispute negotiation and writing a new shearing formula – Mr Rice sees poppies as a passion.

“I see the future for poppies based on increasing production and research and development, but I see a strong future for poppies within Tasmanian agriculture,” Mr Rice said.

“It’s taken me a long time to realise what I know. I’m not a farmer, but I come from farming stock,” he said.