Peanuts are actually vegetables related to peas or beans. Peanuts are a legume crop and can be rotated with other crops like maize and sorghum. Two or three peanuts grow in a pod called a shell. Peanuts are the seeds of the peanut plant and grow underground.
Peanuts are very nutritious, being high in fibre and protein yet free of cholesterol. They are a high energy food but with a slow energy release over a long time because of the high oil unsaturated (good) fat content. They also have a high folic acid (iron) content. Peanuts can be roasted, salted, boiled and even sugar coated. Peanut butter, peanut oil and confectionaries like chocolate are produced from peanuts. Queensland produces over 95% of Australia's peanut crop (only 0.2% of world's production). New South Wales, Western Australia and Northern Territory are the only other peanut producing states but have only small areas for peanuts.
In Queensland, the peanut growing areas are the Burnett region (near Kingaroy), Central Queensland (Emerald), Atherton Tableland (Mareeba), Lakeland Downs (just west of Cooktown), on the Darling Downs (Clifton-St George) and in the Brisbane Valley. In New South Wales, peanut areas include the far north coast around Alstonville, around Armidale on the New England Tableland and at Narrabri (under irrigation). Small areas near the Ord River in north-west Western Australia and on the Douglas/Daly River in Katherine region of Northern Territory produce peanuts.
Peanut growing was introduced into Australia in Queensland during the gold rushes of the 1870's. Chinese gold diggers on the Palmer River near Cooktown in the 1870's and 1880's first grew peanuts. There was little interest in peanut growing then until 1922 when Marrickville Margarine Company (now ETA Food Ltd) bought the whole Burnett Region crop (123 tonnes from 119 hectares). Until this time, peanuts were being imported from China and Japan. This step boosted the local production and was responsible for the establishment of the Peanut Industry in Queensland.
Then in 1924, the Peanut Marketing Board - based in the Kingaroy District - was established to market the crop. The Peanut Growers Cooperative Association Limited was then established in 1927 to improve the efficiency in handling, storage and marketing.
By the 1930's production was over 800 tonnes per year and the industry was becoming well established on the Atherton Tableland as well. Up until then, only a Spanish type of peanut was grown. Soon though, a Virginia type was more commonly adopted and became and still is, the best and most popular variety grown in Queensland.
Annual production grew to 21 000 tonnes by 1960, to 47 000 tonnes in 1970 and production peaked at 61 464 tonnes in 1979. But the 1980's and 1990's have seen reduced areas under peanut and tonnage due to poor seasons and changing farm practices. Restructuring of the industry took place on 1992. As a result, all activities, assets, liabilities and commitments were transferred to the Cooperative Association under the Company name PMB Australia Limited which in 1994, changed its name to the Peanut Company of Australia. This identified it more with its product. Through this company, new variety breeding programs are carried out to increase production. It also checks that the crop is free of pesticide residues and heavy metals and checks all aspects of production, roasting, laboratory and technical services - to keep a very high control of peanut diseases, like aflatoxin.
The Peanut Company of Australia based in Kingaroy, is the largest organization shelling peanuts in Australia.
Peanuts grow best in deep fertile well drained soils - either basaltic red or grey, sandy-enriched with gypsum or lime to prevent "pops" (i.e. empty shells).
Tropical, subtropical and warm temperate climates are best for
peanuts where soil temperature at planting depth - 50 to 70mm- is 20 degrees C
or above. Planting of peanuts occurs between October and December, with
harvesting taking place between March and June. Growth time depends on the type
of peanut grown. The larger kernel of the Virginia peanut, which brings the
highest price, takes 20 - 23 weeks for maturity and needs higher calcium soil
levels and more water to give it the higher yield. Other varieties grown in
Queensland - runner and Spanish - have smaller kernels and need fewer weeks (16
- 19 weeks for Spanish and 20-22 for runners) to maturity. The Virginia type is
by far the most successful and favourite for Queensland farmers. Peanut
seeds grow into bushes about 50cm tall and 100cm across. About 30 -40 days after
planting, yellow sweet pea like flowers appear on the stems. When the petals
fall, they leave behind buds called pegs. The stems with pegs bend down and enter
the soil where they grow into peanuts underground. Over
the growing season, they need 500 - 600mm of well distributed rainfall to give a
good crop. Many farmers use irrigation by overhead or flood sprinklers. By
keeping the soil moist, the peanut disease aflatoxin is minimised. The peanut
crop must be rotated with other crops to keep minerals - potassium, phosphorus
and calcium- in the soil and so reduce problems with soil carrying diseases. The
peanut seed is less hardy than most other legume/grain seeds so much care must
be given to it during planting, soil nutrients, so soil diseases, no weeds and
planting time must be right. As growth is underground, insect pests are not a significant
problem. As well the farmer must choose the correct harvest time to ensure the
highest yield (fullest kernels) from his crop
Peanut seeds grow into bushes about 50cm tall and 100cm across. About 30 -40 days after planting, yellow sweet pea like flowers appear on the stems. When the petals fall, they leave behind buds called pegs. The stems with pegs bend down and enter the soil where they grow into peanuts underground.
Over the growing season, they need 500 - 600mm of well distributed rainfall to give a good crop. Many farmers use irrigation by overhead or flood sprinklers. By keeping the soil moist, the peanut disease aflatoxin is minimised. The peanut crop must be rotated with other crops to keep minerals - potassium, phosphorus and calcium- in the soil and so reduce problems with soil carrying diseases.
The peanut seed is less hardy than most other legume/grain seeds so much care must be given to it during planting, soil nutrients, so soil diseases, no weeds and planting time must be right. As growth is underground, insect pests are not a significant problem. As well the farmer must choose the correct harvest time to ensure the highest yield (fullest kernels) from his crop
HOW IT IS HARVESTED
Peanuts are harvested with machines called diggers and shakers are attached to a tractor. The digger is a long blade that digs into the ground, loosens the peanut plant from the soil and shakes off the dirt and sand and lays the plant on the ground with the peanuts facing up. freshly dug peanuts still have leaves and stems on them and are muddy and wet.
The farmer leaves the peanuts in the field for a few days to dry in the sun. When peanuts are dry, a combine harvester collects and cleans the crop putting peanuts into a hopper. It also separates the leaves and stems from the peanuts and throws this back onto the field. Here it is used to fertilize the peanut field or to feed cows and pigs. From the combine hopper, peanuts are dumped into drying trailers where hot air circulates around the peanuts and dries them further.
Delivery depots for peanuts
operate in South Burnett, on the Atherton Tableland and in Clifton. Here peanuts
are graded with the best grade (Grade 1) of peanuts being the driest, cleanest
and having the biggest kernels. The peanuts are stored in short fat silos. From
here, peanuts are taken to the shelling plant where conveyor belts and shakers
clean and sort the peanuts. A strict quality control technician checks peanuts
for aflatoxin, a poisonous substance caused by mould in peanuts. USES FOR THE PRODUCT
There are large differences in production of tonnes and yield from year to year. Nevertheless the largest demand for peanuts is in snack foods - packaged salted, roasted or raw. Lower yielding peanuts have their skins removed and are ground to make peanut butter, peanut oil and also are a common ingredient in confectionary like chocolate and in biscuits. 90% of all peanut butter is peanuts, the other 10% being salt, vegetable oil and a sweetener dextrose. (A 500g bottle takes 810 peanuts to produce).
Peanut meal made from peanut butter plants after harvesting is an important source of protein for stock feeds. Also the making and selling of peanut hay from peanut plants gives some farmers extra income, but this deprives the soil of valuable nutrients for further crops. Peanut shells also make good garden mulch and are used and sold as fertilizer.
As Australia's production of peanuts cannot satisfy the local demand, Australia has to import peanuts. Currently, Australia had provided 47 000 tonnes for the local market but still had to import 5 000 to 8 000 tonnes, mainly from China, India and Argentina. The price of peanuts on the world market has been steady over the past 10 years except when the USA has had a crop shortage. ISA is the dominant world exporter of peanuts and tends to se the world prices. Chinese and Argentinean peanuts are usually discounted five to twenty percent on the US price.
Peanuts have an excellent storageability. As well, many parts of the plants are used - peanuts for consumption, remaining foliage for animal feed or fertilizer to enrich the soil. Very little pesticides are used and with good management peanut diseases are avoided. So the industry is very environmentally friendly. If peanut growers seek to keep yields of a high quality using crop rotation, disease control measure, the right timing in pulling the crop, improving threshing conditions and drier settings then a profit can be maintained. Then Australia may soon meet its own domestic demand and then think about a growing export potential.
USES FOR THE PRODUCT
Source of information
- National Farmers Federation- "Australian Agriculture"
"Peanut Growing in Australia" - DPI
The Peanut Company of Australia
Ownership of original material and pictures, is acknowledged and no infringement of copyright is intended.