Kernal Peanuts Ltd. was established by Ernie and Nancy Racz on the family farm outside Vittoria in 1979 and incorporated in 1982. The former tobacco growers saw an opportunity to start fresh given the decline in the industry. The sandy soil that made the area so prosperous for tobacco was also a key element for peanut production but given its never-before-grown status, the first crops were largely experimental. This resulted in incredible amounts of time, innovation, capital and determination by the family.
Starting in the mid-1970’s the Racz’s established test plots for Agriculture Canada to increase knowledge of the overall viability of peanut crops in Norfolk County. Work continued with various government agencies including the University of Guelph’s crop program and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food with research into seeding rate, herbicides, along with harvesting and drying air flows. Specialized equipment was needed with many pieces created by Ernie from modified tobacco planting and harvesting machinery. The kilns were transformed into peanut dryers and the strip room into a hand-grading station and storage space.
The American peanut harvest technique of cutting the crop and leaving it to dry on the field for at least two weeks before running the plants through a harvest machine was one major hurdle the Racz needed to overcome. Because of a much shorter growing season in Canada, this process resulted in upwards of 37% crop losses. The Racz’s collaborated with the researchers to solve the problem and created a specialized combine harvester that cuts the plant and separates the shelled peanut in the same operation. The peanuts are then put into the drying kilns the same day which substantially reduced crop losses.
The business is a true partnership with Nancy heading all human resources, packaging, marketing, accounting and retail and Ernie looks after the planting, harvesting, and direct farm-related tasks. The combination of skills turned out to be exactly what was needed and helped to transform the tobacco farm into a prosperous and innovative peanut operation.
By 1990, the farm was growing between 150 to 200 acres of Valencia peanuts from their own seeds with an average of 2,000 pounds harvested per acres. The crops provide a variety of Kernal Peanut products: in-shell, salted, unsalted (amount a variety of other flavours), peanut butter, beer nuts and candies right down to bird seed and horse bedding made from discarded shells. The entire process – planted, grown, harvested, processed, packed, sold and shipped – is done by Kernal Peanuts. Today, this proudly Norfolk County farm is the largest producer of peanuts in all of Canada.
Innovation remains key to the overall success of the peanut farm operation.
- Formation of experimental crops for government agencies in aid of research and develop of sustainable peanut crops in the province in the 1970’s
- Ecofriendly approach to the overall operations of farming, processing and packing
- Redevelopment and invention of specific equipment for planting and harvesting in Canada
- Peanut oil stockpiled for bio-diesel fuel
- Peanut shells recycled on-site for fuel to operate processing plant
- All buildings on the farm are heated with an outdoor wood furnace (fueled by peanut shells) and used in the drying process along with hot water supply
- Development of health-conscious peanut butter under the Kernal Peanut Ltd. name
- Development of new peanut “jet-black” in colour and unique to the peanut industry which is proudly marketed as Norfolk County’s own