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Project explores possibility of farming peanuts in Northland

Northland could be the first place in New Zealand to commercially grow peanuts, with the first part of a trial proving successful in the country's kumara capital Dargaville. 

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The first part of a trial in Dargaville is proving successful. Source: 1 NEWS

It’s a project initiated by Nelson-based Pic’s Peanut Butter and funded by the Ministry for Primary Industries, wanting to see how viable the area could be.

Before now, the popular peanut butter company had been importing their produce from Australia, but now they’re eyeing up a homegrown alternative.

Using seeds imported from Zambia, three plots were set up in Kaipara late last year.

They’re a special Spanish variety of Hi-Oleic peanuts; ideal for snacking, baking and making peanut butter.

Pics told 1 NEWS they’ve always wanted to grow peanuts locally, with now appearing like the perfect time.

“Of course, Australia’s getting hotter. There’s more and droughts and their crop is reducing considerably,” says founder Pic Picot.

“So, with the increasing warmth in New Zealand, I think there is the opportunity with the right soil temperatures which Northland does have to get a good crop growing.”

The New Zealand Institute of Plant and Food’s Declan Graham says the prospect of peanut growing has always been an option, but until now there hadn’t been the demand.

“Peanuts have been evaluated previously in New Zealand in the 1980s but around the North Island – Hawke’s Bay, Pukekohe – but the difference is now there’s a peanut butter industry in New Zealand.”

The project is a long burn due to the building of processing facilities needing to be factored in.

Picot says the project is an opportunity to bring jobs to an area in desperate need.

“The chance to bring jobs to somewhere like Northland where they’re really struggling for employment and to make something, we could really make our own.”

One square metre of peanut crops produces roughly enough to make enough peanuts for a 450g jar. So, for a hectare that’s 10,000 jars of peanut butter.

While early days, Northland farmers are calling it an exciting opportunity for the region.

“If it’s viable then yeah, it’s something we could consider but we have to do our homework. Peanuts internationally are a commodity,” says farmer Alister McCahon.

Now the next step for the project is evaluating the viability of a larger-scale operation.