Ground Cover North : Ground Cover 057 August-September 2005 - North
Peanuts 15 AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2005 GROUND COVER PHOTO: REBECCA THYER QUALITY Infrared to lift QA The Peanut Company of Australia (PCA) is testing a near infrared (NIR) scanning system for detecting aflatoxin and other peanut qualities in a bid to cut costs and ensure a better quality product reaches customers. Kevin Norman, PCA technical manager, says four lamps scan conveyors of peanuts for various qualities. Currently, peanuts are sorted by hand and samples are tested in the company's state-of-the-art Innovation and Technology Centre, opened in 2003. But once the NIR machine is up and running, it could save the company more than $1 million a year, while lifting quality. "We're basically at the stage of training the machine to look for different compounds," he says. "We are getting very good results, but we still need to improve our aflatoxin scanning. It is proving to be more difficult than other quality traits because we're looking for this contaminant at parts per billion levels." The Australian standard for aflatoxin is 15 parts per billion (ppb). International standards vary from four to 30 (ppb). Mr Norman likens the process to "looking for a tiny piece of glass in the sand on the beach". Research gives peanuts the good oil for growth Peanut-growing is one of Australia's oldest grain industries, but the consequences of extensive research are reshaping it into one of Australia's fastest-growing 'new prospect' industries. Rebecca Thyer reports n Farmers have been growing peanuts commercially in Queensland for more than 100 years, yet there is still the potential to expand the industry well beyond its present size and capabilities. While research into disease, better farm management and new crop varieties has helped drive the industry forward and expand it into new production areas, Dr Graeme Wright, principal agronomist at the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (QDPI&F), believes it is oil production that offers the most untapped potential. "Peanuts are really under-utilised in Australia," he says. "So we're undertaking a scoping study to measure the potential value of peanut oil." Peanuts are traditionally grown on dryland areas of the Burnett and Atherton Tablelands, in southern and northern Queensland respectively. However, through varietal improvement, new production areas in the Northern Territory and on the irrigated, coastal sugarcane regions of Queensland have been established, helping to boost production and strengthen security of supply. Dr Wright now wants to expand peanut production further and create a profitable oil industry: "We plan to assess the potential for establishing peanuts as an oilseed crop in non-traditional production regions throughout southern and northern Australia," he says. "With the highest oil content of any crop species -- ranging between 45 and 53 per cent -- peanuts offer some exciting possibilities for growers, processors and consumers." The scoping study will coincide with the imminent release of ultra-early maturing high-oleic varieties developed by the QDPI&F through GRDC-funded projects. High-oleic peanuts have health benefits over conventional peanuts because the linoleic (polyunsaturated fat) and palmitic (saturated fat) fatty acids have been naturally replaced by the healthier oleic fatty acid (monounsaturated fat). They also have up to 10 times the shelf life of conventional peanuts. "Our ultra-early maturing varieties will give dryland growers more options to spread the production risk under drought conditions, which unfortunately occur with a high frequency in the Burnett area," says Dr Wright. Early varieties grow for 100 to 110 days, compared to 150 days for other Virginia and runner peanut varieties, and effectively escape severe drought conditions. "They are lower yielding, but in tough conditions they will give an economic yield. Growers will probably plant both types to hedge their bets. Conventional dryland crops can yield anything from half a tonne to five tonnes a hectare. These will yield one to four tonnes a hectare, depending on rainfall." Dr Wright says new varieties also have enormous potential as an oilseed crop in low- input farming systems. "Peanuts potentially provide a highly drought-tolerant summer grain legume for a number of farming systems, including cereal, cotton and sugar, which have a special need for a more effective nitrogen-fixing and profitable rotation crop." Oil is manufactured by crushing and chemical extraction of kernels, with the meal providing a top-quality stockfeed. The scoping study will determine the market potential for kernel, oil and high-value meal, agronomic suitability and likely profitability of peanuts as an oilseed. "If we can be sure that the marketing potential exists, then we could have real success with growing an oil crop," he says. "China has a preference for peanut oil and in five to 10 years could be a net importer." Olive, canola and sunflower currently dominate the higher-quality global vegetable oil market, mainly because of perceived and measurable health benefits. However, the health benefits of high- oleic peanut oil, including the potential to reduce cholesterol, could ensure the new peanut oil is also a marketing success. Kingaroy peanut grower Wayne Weller checking on maturity in threshed peanuts. PHOTO: REBECCA THYER WATER SHORTAGE COSTS PEANUTS n Kingaroy peanut growers Malcolm, Wayne and Noel Weller are the first to admit that last season's lack of rain was unsettling. "We got a couple of showers to limp us over the line, but it really was a disruptive season," Noel says. What it has meant, however, is that the brothers are even keener on pursuing their goal of irrigating at least part of their peanut crop. While they admit more money can be made through dryland farming, they just can't be assured of adequate rain. "Dryland farming is more profitable, but that's only if you get the seasonal rainfall and we all know that is not guaranteed," Wayne says. "Using irrigation we can at least guarantee a crop and we can also minimise the aflatoxin risk." The Wellers operate a 600-hectare mixed farming enterprise, in which 300ha are devoted to peanuts. After trialling rotations of cotton, the Wellers decided a rotation of peanuts and maize worked best and now aim to have 80ha of irrigated peanuts. "Experience has shown us that water is the great leveller," Wayne says. "Drought is the greatest challenge facing the dryland peanut industry, so our strategy is to get 20 per cent of our peanut area under water." For the past six years, the Wellers have farmed 35ha under irrigation, using water from Joh Bjelke-Petersen dam. The success of this irrigated field has prompted them to test a towable, centre-pivot, low-pressure irrigation system, using bore water, at another of their properties. "The area does not have good underground water, but we were able to find a source at 87 metres." The system has been used to irrigate maize and the results speak for themselves. The crop is almost double the size of the non-irrigated crop. The brothers employed a geophysical survey specialist, and identified another site with water at 50 metres, from a different aquifer. After testing with irrigated feed maize, only peanuts will be grown under irrigation because of the water's cost. Rotational crops will continue to be grown under dryland conditions. Malcolm Weller says that even though yields are ensured through irrigation, water and fuel costs have to be weighed up against crop values. "In the six years we've been using water from the dam, the price of water has doubled. On top of that, diesel, needed to run the pumps, has increased in price. So we need to be sure that irrigation is cost-effective." This year the brothers sowed only tried- and-tested peanut varieties because they knew they could handle the dry conditions. But next season they will consider planting high-oleic varieties: "High-oleics might be a point of difference, although it's doubtful that more money will be paid for them," says Wayne. Nonetheless, the Wellers believe that research into new varieties best suited to their land and conditions is important, and that a paddock-to-plate mentality and use of technology will give them a competitive edge. ∆For more information: firstname.lastname@example.org "Given Australia's access to cutting- edge peanut genetics, a unique opportunity exists to develop an elite market for high-oleic peanut oil in an already high- value market," says Dr Wright. ∆GRDC Research Code DAQ00070 For more information: Dr Graeme Wright, 07 4162 4622, email@example.com New outlook: Kingaroy dryland peanut country. Dr Graeme Wright, GRDC-supported peanut programs supervisor.
Ground Cover 058 October-November 2005 - North
Ground Cover 056 June-July 2005 - North