The harvest of field trial peanut crops came to an end in June as part of a project looking into the feasibility of commercially growing the nuts in New Zealand.
It’s the first year of a $1 million project funded by Picot Productions - makers of Pic’s Peanut Butter – the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund and Northland Inc, following a successful one-year feasibility study in 2021.
It is currently operational in five locations – two farms in Te Kōpuru, two on Māori land near Kai Iwi Lakes and Awanui, and one farm near Kaingaroa. The coming season will see the number of sites expand to seven across Northland.
A sample harvest during the feasibility study in 2021 saw promising results and this year’s crops have provided further information on the cultivars most suited for potential commercial viability in the Northland climate.
Final results are due to be delivered in the coming months including an all-important taste test.
Pic is quietly confident that it’s a step in the right direction towards fully home grown peanut butter in the future.
“We are one of the few producers in New Zealand that freshly roasts our own peanuts, so to be able to source them from our own backyard would be the cherry on top,” Pic says.
“Not to mention the huge positive impact it would have in reducing our carbon footprint.”
Pic’s currently imports approximately 2,500 tonnes of nuts to produce its peanut butter each year and while Kiwi crops wouldn’t be able to completely fulfil this demand, Pic says even having a portion grown locally would be a real win.
In January and February 2022, New Zealand imported fruit and nuts to the value of $65 million. Pic’s alone churns through one tonne of peanuts every hour to produce as many as 28,000 jars of peanut butter every single day.
“If we can pull this off and produce enough peanuts from Kiwi soil it’d make our peanut butter just that much peanut-better.”
Once harvest is complete the nuts will be tested for taste and quality. Those that make the grade will be roasted and crushed at Peanut Butter World in Nelson before they’re made into a very limited run of Pic’s Peanut Butter.
“We spend top dollar on imported Hi-Oleic nuts which are better for you, so we’re keen to match or better that quality,” Pic says.
Vaughan Cooper, acting chief executive of Northland Inc. says the trial is a significant project for the region that gives back to the community in more ways than one.
“Not only would peanut crops provide an economic boost, but the plants themselves also restore the soil and put nitrogen back in, creating a richer environment for the next crop in the cycle.”
If initial indications are proven correct, he believes it will provide confidence to investors and landowners that diversifying into peanut growing is the right move for Northland.
“This trial allows us to assess the opportunity and potential benefits of creating a new industry within Northland, while taking the risk out of diversification for our farmers.”
When run at scale the group behind the trial estimates crops could produce enough nuts for 4,500 jars of peanut butter per hectare, but the aim would be to double this to around 10,000 over time.
“While Northland is more well-known as kumara country than peanut province at the minute, I’m hopeful that won’t be the case forever.
“I guess ultimately the proof will be in the peanuts.”