New South Wales detectives say they have caused major disruptions to the illegal drug trade, seizing $18,174,000 worth of cannabis during a five-month series of operations across the State, including in the Richmond and Tweed/Byron Local Area Commands.

From November last year to March, the State Crime Command Drug Squad’s Plantation Unit conducted seven Cannabis Eradication Programs (CEPs) in the Tweed/Byron, Richmond, Manning/Great Lakes, Mid North Coast, Far South Coast, Coffs/Clarence and New England Local Area Commands.

In total, 9645 cannabis plants were located, seized and destroyed by Strike Force Aster.

A substantial quantity of cannabis head and leaf, ready for supply, was also found.

The plants ranged from seedlings to four metres in height.

Many of the plots featured sophisticated irrigation and nutrient-supply systems.

Twenty people were either charged or issued with Field Court Attendance Notices in relation to the cultivation and/or possession of cannabis.

The Drug Squad detectives were assisted by the Police Air Wing, Dog Squad, Radio Electronics Unit and officers from the various Local Area Commands.

Since 2001, the Cannabis Eradication Programs have resulted in the seizure and destruction of 100,536 plants, valued at more than $206m.

“We’re finding the cannabis growers are feeling the pinch,” Drug Squad Commander Nick Bingham said.

“They’ve tried planting smaller crops and dispersing them over larger areas, in rugged, almost inaccessible terrain in an effort to avoid detection. But it’s not working, we’re still finding and destroying them.

“Our strategies and tactics vary so much, often the first sign they have of our presence is the whir of the police helicopter hovering above their crops and seeing them winched off a mountain destined for a furnace.

“The program has proved very successful over the years with Local Area Commands, particularly in the north of the State, eager to take part in disrupting local cannabis cultivation and supply.”

The Drug Squad also relies on the help of the community.