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Pic’s Peanut Butter To Trial Growing Peanuts In Northland

Pic’s Peanut Butter has kicked off a project to look at the feasibility of growing peanuts commercially in Northland, with backing from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

The $91,320 project is led by Picot Productions, and MPI is contributing more than $59,000 through its Sustainable Food & Fibre Futures fund. Research expertise is being provided by Plant & Food Research.

The project will trial growing peanuts in three locations – Ruawai on a kumara farm, Poutu Peninsular near Dargaville, and on Māori land in the Kai Iwi Lakes district. If successful, peanut farming could bring new employment opportunities to the Northland region

“We’ve selected three locations with different soil types and environments to see where the peanuts grow best,” says Declan Graham, Business Manager – Science at Plant & Food Research, which is managing the project trials.

“A soil temperature of around 18 degrees is ideal, so the window for getting the peanuts in the ground and harvesting them is small.”

The trial peanuts were planted in late October and are expected to be ready for harvest within 16 to 20 weeks. Spanish Hi Oleic peanuts, which have smaller kernels and reddish-brown skins, have been identified as the most appropriate cultivar for Northland conditions.

“This type of peanut is most widely used in confectionary and snacks, as well as peanut butter production,” says Mr Graham. “Their high oil content makes them ideal for crushing.”

Mr Graham says the team doesn’t expect the project to be plain sailing. They’ll need to deal with aspects like weed control and pests. “But of course, the proof will be in the tasting,” he says.

“It has always felt a little weird to be making an iconic New Zealand product with imported ingredients,” says Pic Picot, Picot Productions owner and founder. “These trials have the potential to make a very real difference to our carbon footprint and redirect the millions of dollars we spend on imported nuts to Northland, easily my second favourite region of New Zealand.”

In 2015, Pic’s ‘Big Toaster Tour’ visited Dargaville en-route from Bluff to North Cape. Mr Picot says that he, his dog Fido, and Amy the peanut butter fairy received an unforgettable welcome.

“We were treated like long lost whānau,” says Picot. “We got a lot of attention at local tourist attraction the Kumara Box, sold every last jar we had at the Friday market, and were presented with two 50-year-old cans of Toheroa Soup. I can think of nothing finer than to help the Northland community establish a new industry.”

MPI Investment Programmes Director Steve Penno says MPI is excited to be involved in a project that could lead to a new industry in New Zealand and help boost the local Northland economy.

“This project fits perfectly with our goal of funding projects that will make a positive and lasting difference,” says Mr Penno.

“This project has the potential to lead to a new industry in Northland, which will bring new value into the region and create more jobs for New Zealanders.”

 

Late last year, Pic’s financed a trial of growing peanuts in a glasshouse, using imported seeds from a seedbank in Zambia owned by British-based peanut breeders Canon Garth. However, due to the COVID-19 lockdown the growers were unable to access the glasshouses to maintain the crop properly and the crop failed.

The researchers have used the intervening time to understand more fully the agronomic requirements. This includes investigating an appropriate rhizobia, a bacteria required to inoculate the peanut plant to ensure it has the most efficient and sustainable supply nitrogen.

Peanuts act as a restorative crop within a crop rotation, helping to reduce nitrogen fertiliser inputs and losses. As almost all New Zealand’s kumara crop is grown in the Kaipara District, crop rotation with peanuts would be highly complementary to kumara production.

Pic's Peanut Butter currently uses approximately 2,500 tonnes of peanuts each year. Based on Australian farmer returns, a yield of four tonnes per hectare could have a gross income of around $5000 per hectare per rotation, although it’s possible there could also be a grower premium associated with New Zealand-grown peanuts.

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