Pic's picks Northland for extensive peanut growing trial

Pic's Peanut Butter may soon use 100 percent local ingredients, if a new trial to grow peanuts in Northland is successful.

The popular brand is looking at the feasibility of growing peanuts commercially up north, with pilot projects taking place in three locations across the region.

Pic's owner and founder Pic Picot says the trials have the potential to "make a very real difference" to the company's carbon footprint and "redirect the million of dollars we spend on imported nuts to Northland".

"It has always felt a little weird to be making an iconic New Zealand product with imported ingredients," he said.

The project will initially trial growing peanuts on a kumara farm in Ruawai, on the Poutu Peninsula near Dargaville and on Māori land in the Kai Iwi Lakes district.

The $91,000 project is led by Picot Productions and has received more than $59,000 of funding from the Ministry for Primary Industries' Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund. Research expertise will come from Plant and Food Research.

The peanuts were planted in late October and are expected to be ready to harvest within 16 to 20 weeks. 

Declan Graham, business manager of science at Plant and Food Research said 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 confectionery and snacks, as well as peanut butter production," he said.

"Their high oil content makes them ideal for crushing."

Trials are taking place in three locations across the region.
Trials are taking place in three locations across the region. Photo credit: Supplied / MPI

Graham said the trial locations were chosen as they have different soil types and environments and will provide information on where the peanuts grow best.

"A soil temperature of around 18C is ideal, so the window for getting the peanuts in the ground and harvesting them is small," he said.

Late last year, Pic's financed a trial growing peanuts in a glasshouse, using imported seeds from a seedbank in Zambia. However, growers were unable to access the glasshouse to maintain the crop properly due to COVID-19, and the trial was unsuccessful.

Graham said since that trial, researchers had used the time to more fully understand the agronomic requirements of peanuts. This included investigating an appropriate rhizobia, a bacteria required to inoculate the peanut plant to ensure it has the most efficient and sustainable supply nitrogen.

He also admitted that the current project was likely to have its own hurdles to overcome, with aspects like weed control and pests needing to be dealt with. 

"But of course, the proof will be in the tasting," he says.

Steve Penno, MPI investment programmes director, said he hoped the project could bring job opportunities to Northland and boost the local economy.

"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."