Water scheme could see homegrown peanut butter

Published: 17 March, 2021

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  • Northland/Te Tai Tokerau

Peanuts and other sub-tropical crops could potentially be grown in Northland thanks to water projects now being built in the region with the backing of the Provincial Development Unit (PDU).

two adults kneeling down in the fields inspecting peanut crops for flowers

Inspecting the trial peanut crop for flowers

Nationwide, the PDU has invested more than $157.5 million in 36 water storage projects.

In Northland, this investment has helped construction begin on the 750,000 cubic metre Matawii reservoir on the Ngawha Innovation and Enterprise Park near Kaikohe. The reservoir will be the foundation for a much larger scheme of multiple, inter-connected reservoirs.

When completed, the Mid-North water storage scheme is expected to bring up to $150 million a year in increased horticulture earnings and create up to 1150 jobs in the region.

Efforts are also underway to establish water storage sites in the Kaipara region.

The water storage projects coincide with a research trial to see if peanuts can be grown commercially in Northland.

The Pic's Peanut Butter trial is being backed by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) which is contributing more than $59,000 from its Sustainable Food & Fibre Futures Fund to the cost of the investigation by Plant & Food Research.

The trial is being run on a kumara farm at Ruawai, on the Pouto Peninsula near Dargaville and on Māori land in the Kai Iwi Lakes district.

Plant & Food’s science business manager, Declan Graham, told Radio New Zealand the three locations have different soil types and environments so they can determine where peanuts grow best.

"They've got to have around 18C soil temperature to germinate and that's quite high for New Zealand. There wouldn't be many places in the country that would be able to produce temperatures like that for the soil,” Declan Graham said.

“We've identified the Pohue area around Kaipara, and there'll be parts further north that would have an 18C soil temperature in about October, November.”

Sunny areas like Gisborne or Nelson were also suggested as a possibility, he said, but the early season soil temperatures are not high enough.

Declan Graham says the PDU’s investment through the Provincial Growth Fund is helping.

“The Provincial Growth Fund has put in some investment toward water storage in the north and that does provide opportunities around that for growing crops that otherwise would not have been suitable,” Mr Graham said.

“It is a few things coming together – it is the infrastructure, it’s also the expertise and the willingness and the motivation of people to try something different.”

Declan Graham says that potentially provides future opportunities like peanut farming for Northland, especially around Dargaville where kumara has been the traditional crop.

"The great thing about peanuts is that they're a restorative crop, so they put nitrogen back into the soil. Internationally they are very often used as part of a rotation in-between crops that are quite hungry. So I would say kumara growers would probably see it as a benefit."

“New Zealand farmers have always led the world in their innovation and around the way they can grow great horticulture crops and produce excellent yields.”

Nelson-based Pic's Peanut Butter is the driving force behind the research project.

The company presently spends millions of dollars importing about 2,500 tonnes of peanuts a year. It says being able to use domestically grown nuts would reduce the company’s carbon footprint at the same time as redirecting millions to Northland producers.

MPI investment programmes director Steve Penno said if it was successful, peanut farming could bring new employment opportunities to Northland and boost the local economy.

"This project fits perfectly with our goal of funding projects that will make a positive and lasting difference," Steve Penno said.

"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."