Peanuts could be beef's new secret weapon

Updated March 14 2022 - 2:09am, first published 1:00am
ON TRIAL: Home Hill farmer Aaron Linton and CQUniversity researcher Isaac Cardillo.

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 the Peanut Farming Services team at Bega Cheese Limited, 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 at multiple sites across Queensland and the Northern Territory over the next three years.

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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, and test them for both their suitability to a range of northern environments as well as their response to an early season biomass cutting and the consequent impacts on nut yield and harvest timing.

"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," lead researcher Assoc. Professor Surya 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 in the Northern Territory.

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.

"Laboratory analyses will determine the nutritional quality for fodder/forage options, and assess any anti-nutrient and toxicity factors - this will be an important step for ensuring safe and productive feeding and grazing of peanut hay and biomass respectively," Dr Bhattarai 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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