Dual-purpose peanut varieties could hold the key to diversifying grazing operations across Northern Australia by providing both high-value fodder as well as financial returns from the sale of peanuts.
A new project being led by CQUniversity, in partnership with Bega's peanut farming services team and principal co-investment from the CRC for Developing Northern Australia, is setting out to test the concept of dual-purpose peanut production through a series of trials across multiple sites across Queensland over the next three years.
The 'Grain and Graze North' project is evaluating different peanut varieties and breeding lines from the Bega-GRDC peanut breeding program that are already known to produce large volumes of foliage.
Lead researcher associate professor Surya Bhattarai said the project will also identify their suitability to a range of northern environments as well as their response to an early season biomass cutting.
"Peanuts have been identified as a priority crop for expanded production in Northern Australia, as we know they offer great production potentials in the tropics and are well suited to some of the soil types," Prof Bhattarai said.
"This project is assessing whether high biomass peanut varieties also have potential to produce high value fodder to help diversify beef businesses, provide some feed security from extended dry seasons, and even finish stock for sale into higher value markets, while still delivering a valuable crop of nuts at the end of the season."
Trials are already underway in Emerald, Home Hill, Georgetown in Queensland, with further plantings planned for Tully, Qld, and Katherine and Douglas Daly, NT.
Participating in the trial is third generation sugarcane farmer Aaron Linton of Home Hill.
Planting only a hectare of the peanuts, Mr Linton said it was a great opportunity to plant a different crop during his fallow period.
"I've been looking for different crop to fit into our rotation for a while now and I've worked with Queensland CQUni on a few other trials that they've done," Mr Linton said.
"We're predominantly using the fallow period of the sugarcane to grow other crops.
"November through to April is usually the standard fallow, but we've all been moving to these 18 month fallows now where we take a little bit more land out for a bit longer just to change the diversity of the soil of what we're growing."
Mr Linton said the Burdekin is good for growing peanuts in some areas, as it's very soil type specific.
"You'll grow them no problems, but harvesting and getting them out of the soil and getting the soil off them can be a problem if you're in the wrong soil type," he said.
"We've found a few spots to grow peanuts and there's plenty of land hear that is suitable to be able to move forwards and make it a bit of an industry.
"We're waiting for the results now and seeing if it's worth it."
Mr Linton said the trial has allowed his business to operate outside of the square.
"The peanuts benefit the sugarcane afterwards as well and with these current fertiliser prices that are around, there's going to be a huge change for our bottom line if we don't have to fertilise at the moment," he said.
"Peanuts don't need a nitrogen base, they make their own.
"While sugarcane requires nitrogen, if we can use the leftover residue that the peanuts have made, it fits hand in hand."
Overall, Mr Linton said the experience has been a steep learning curve, but he hopes to grow peanuts on a broader scale.
"Using peanuts as fodder could be financially viable for our operation," he said.
"We've definitely got the soil, the water, the sunlight, and we can grow it.
"If it's economically viable for us, we'll find a way to grow more."
The trial sites at Emerald and Ayr were trimmed last month to replicate the process of cutting forage for hay, with the plant response and nut yield to be measured over the remainder of the season.
Dr Bhattarai said laboratory analyses will determine the nutritional quality for fodder/forage options.
"This will be an important step for ensuring safe and productive feeding and grazing of peanut hay and biomass respectively," she said.
The project also includes an economic analysis to determine the potential benefits of dual-purpose cropping, not just at individual farm level but for northern agriculture more broadly.
"In year two of the project we'll be calling for farmers to participate in the trials and test the dual-purpose peanut concept at a commercial scale, with the view to providing industry with a detailed production guide on how to maximise profit from dual-purpose peanut crops by the end of project in early 2025," Dr Bhattarai said.
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