Squatter dope farmers targetting cane paddocks
ETON district cane grower Col Sievers has a problem with a weed of a different kind.
The 83-year-old farmer said drug producers were taking advantage of his farm, using his cane fields to hide their own illegal cash crops.
It is a practice that has been going on for decades, Mr Sievers said, with a small patch of marijuana popping up in secluded sections of his 250 hectare cane fields every few years.
Mr Sievers said he had found up to 18 different patches, usually with around 20-30 pot plants.
After one harvest, Mr Sievers said a contractor pulled in a large "chaff bag" full of marijuana stems.
Over the years, Mr Sievers said he has destroyed between 300 and 500 marijuana plants, which were likely worth tens of thousands dollars.
And he said he was not the only farmer to stumble on an illegal crop.
Usually planted in isolated areas, often near creeks or flood plains, Mr Sievers said the squatters were freeloading on growers' irrigation, herbicides and fertilisers.
The plants camouflaged by the cane were completely invisible until it came time to harvest, Mr Sievers said.
"You wouldn't ever take note of it," Mr Sievers said.
"As soon as you want to harvest you see them scurrying around."
When he used to burn off his cane, Mr Sievers said he would spot people jumping into the flames to save their illegal crops from going up in smoke.
Mr Sievers said he had reported the crops to police but was told apprehending the illegal growers was unlikely.
For the cane grower, who said he has never smoked so much as a cigarette, the dilemma of what to do with the illegal crop was obvious.
"I didn't worry because they could never catch them. What's the point? I just destroy it," he said.
With sugar price recovering from record lows, Mr Sievers joked: "I'd be a lot better off if I had been growing that stuff than cane."
Population growth in the farming region had resulted in a decrease in illegal plantations, Mr Sievers said.
"It's killed the drug trade out a bit," he said.
"They're not game to plant around the homes."
He said the illicit farmers were either growing weed on their own properties, or were targeting other isolated cane paddocks.
But this was not the only time Mr Sievers has had criminals on his property.
In January 2018, Mr Sievers and his daughter, Karen Seviers, found a man, "stark naked" in their kitchen asking for a glass of water.
"He was only a little bloke. I would have been 80 then, but I could have handled him with one hand," Mr Sievers said.