NUTS FOR CROP: Alloway farmer Dean Cayley says his peanut crops have increased his cane yeilds.
NUTS FOR CROP: Alloway farmer Dean Cayley says his peanut crops have increased his cane yeilds. Max Fleet BUN050116DEAN4

Cheese giant wants growers to cash in on nutty venture

THEY'RE a staple at the circus and make for controversial debates regarding crunchy versus smooth, and now peanuts are making their mark on the local agricultural industry.

Bega Cheese has taken over the Peanut Company of Australia and is calling on producers to take up the nut.

Alloway farmer Dean Cayley says it's a win-win for local growers.

The third-generation cane farmer said, since introducing peanuts into his rotation, he has seen an increase in cashflow, cane yield and a decrease in chemical use on the farm.

"It's the best of both worlds," Mr Cayley said.

"With our rotation we probably grow around 25-30ha of peanuts per year, which is about 120-130 tonnes of peanuts.

"The peanuts have been a good rotation with our sugar, it allows us to give the ground a spell and gives us time to do soil tests and use different chemicals, taking out the monoculture of sugar."

Describing the legume as a soil sweetner, Mr Cayley said his cane yields had gone from 100 tonnes a hectare up to 140 tonnes a hectare.

"It's a good thing. We can't keep up with Australia's demand for peanuts so there's a big opening in the market," he said.

"With sugar prices at a record low again, it also gives growers the opportunity to increase their cash flow.

"Especially with input costs going up every year, if we can put in a cash crop it's a win-win for everybody."

He said peanuts could be grown any time between September and December and some of the new varieties required less spraying and saved on chemical costs.

"There's a new variety out now that we used to spray with a fungicide, 10-12 sprays per peanut crop. We can get that back to 4-5, so you're halving your chemical use, which is a win for the environment and you're saving time," he said.

"The other advantage I see with peanuts is that it allows us to cut back our fertiliser use for plant cane.

"Normally in my situation I'd use probably between 250-300kg to the hectare of fertiliser at planting and then at our side-dress we would probably apply another 400-500kg a hectare, but I don't do that anymore. We only put the smaller amount on because of the peanuts."

Mr Cayley said he was looking forward to an expanding industry and work with Bega.

Peanut Company of Australia supply manager Lionel Wieck said there were big benefits to growing peanuts as well as a gap in the market.

"We are under-supplied with Australian peanuts and Bega wants 100 per cent Australian peanuts in their peanut butter," he said.

"There are different opportunities for people looking to grow peanuts.

"And as a legume break crop, it has big benefits and is perfect for cane."