NZ Local News

Northland peanut trial looking ‘really promising’

Editor Written by Editor · 3 min read >


The promising peanut trials could mean the start of a new economy in Northland. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Reporter Brodie Stone and photographer Michael Cunningham drove two hours from Whangārei to the remote Pouto Peninsula to see how an unusual trial is unfolding.

Peanuts are growing in Northland – and they’re growing well.

That’s good news for project manager of Northland Inc’s peanut trail Greg Hall.

He hopes to help bring a new industry to the region and its many growers, investors and landowners.

So far this final trial season, things appear to be looking “really promising” despite a “washout” previous season.

The project is back up and running at six sites across Northland totalling 5 hectares.

Four sites are dotted across the Kaipara with one each in Pouto and Kai Iwi and two in Te Kōpuru. The Far North is also hosting two sites in Houhora and Awanui.

Three different peanut varieties are being tested to work out which grows best, in what conditions, and what they taste like once they have been processed.

Hi Oleic peanuts are being trialled due to their high oil content, which is particularly good for peanut butter (an extra plus for trial partner Pic’s Peanut Butter).

It’s all in a bid to work out whether it would be commercially viable to grow peanuts in Northland.

Below the ground at Pouto grow thousands of peanuts as part of a feasibility trial. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Below the ground at Pouto grow thousands of peanuts as part of a feasibility trial. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Over in Pouto, that seems to be going particularly well. A field of what looks like leafy greens appears an underwhelming sight at first until you realise underneath the ground something pretty impressive is developing.

Because these plants aren’t spinach or lettuce – they’re peanut plants.

“This landowner has been on our case ever since (the trial started) saying ‘Let’s grow, let’s grow’!” Hall laughs as he gestures to the vast greenery in front of him.

He explains despite common thinking (apparently from a Dr Seuss book), peanuts do not grow on trees.

Here in Pouto, there are around 222,000 plants per hectare on the irrigated side, while the non-irrigated side populates about 110,000 per hectare.

“The reason we’re doing irrigated versus non-irrigated is that not every landowner is gonna have access to water. So to do side-by-side comparisons, that helps our business case financial model further down the track,” Hall explained.

Project manager Greg Hall is happy with how this year's crop in Pouto looks. The left side is the irrigated side. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Project manager Greg Hall is happy with how this year’s crop in Pouto looks. The left side is the irrigated side. Photo / Michael Cunningham

At Pouto’s site, the plants are averaging between 30-40 peanuts, but that depends on the variety and growing conditions.

Here, they’ll be due for harvest toward the end of this month or early April after being planted late October last year.

Hall credits Jeanette Johnston with the peanut knowledge despite his cache of interesting facts and the fact his job has him “dreaming of peanuts”.

Johnston is a horticulture specialist who knows the science behind the plant.

Peanuts are a legume, so like lentils and kidney beans, they grow in shells at the end of stems, also known as “pegs”.

The pegs are where peanut shells grow. Photo / Michael Cunningham
The pegs are where peanut shells grow. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Legume plants fix nitrogen to the soil, so they are complementary to a “cop rotation programme” to be planted just after harvest due to their ability to improve soil health.

That’s good news for Northland farmers.

Perhaps not-so-good news has been the overgrowth of clover at this particular site.

Any spray that kills the clover would also kill the peanut plant because they come from the same family, so the only option is hand-picking which would take, well, a while.

Weeds are an issue in Northland normally, but especially this year following wet weather, humidity and heat, Johnston explains.

But she seems unphased.

“There’s very little we can do, but it’s all part of the trial,” she shrugs. “It’s all valuable information that can be passed on to growers. We take the hard work out, by doing the hard work now.”

Jeanette Johnstone (left) and Hannah MacKay (right) at the Pouto trial site with Greg Hall. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Jeanette Johnstone (left) and Hannah MacKay (right) at the Pouto trial site with Greg Hall. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Weeds aren’t the only pest to watch out for when it comes to growing peanuts – rabbits, turkeys, pukekos and bulls are fond of them too.

Hall speaks from experience when he describes in a despondent tone how peanut shells littered the rows in the aftermath of a turkey attack.

Bulls also love the plants. They will eat the plant and all that comes with it (interestingly, peanuts are used as a grazing crop overseas).

Weather, pests and weeds aside, Hall and Johnston are happy with how things are progressing.

Hall said the next step is to be able to process the peanuts in Northland into various products and states.

This particular batch will be pulled up and dried in the sun and wind for about 10 days before being picked up, tumbled, shaken off and dried some more.

The nuts will then travel to Pic’s where they turn into peanut butter.

There may be a future for nuts in Northland, according to trial project manager Greg Hall. Photo / Michael Cunningham
There may be a future for nuts in Northland, according to trial project manager Greg Hall. Photo / Michael Cunningham

There may even be room for studies to take place such as one by an AUT student who wants to look at waste streams for the shells.

Incredibly, peanut shells can be used for insulation and other materials. Hall said the prospective study is yet another example of how multi-functional peanuts are.

When it comes to crunch time, the ultimate goal is to get a new economy growing right here in Northland.

The project is being led by Northland Inc, the region’s economic development agency. It’s a collaboration between the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Sustainable Fibre Future fund, Picot Productions, Plant & Food Research, and Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research.

“The real hope is that on the back of this season, when we will get all our financial data into a mode, that it proves viable for farmers to actually grow,” Hall said.

“We want them to get a good return at the farm gate, not a commodity price which tends to happen.

“Our goal would be to put a processing plant in Northland. Create more employment in Northland because we need it, but also so we’re not shipping out more products.”

Brodie Stone is the education and general news reporter at the Advocate. Brodie has spent most of her life in Whangārei and is passionate about delving into issues that matter to Northlanders and beyond.



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