Hazelnuts rebounding with new varieties, demand

by DAVID SCHMIDT








GREENDALE – After producing more than a million pounds of nuts per year as little as a decade ago, the BC hazelnut industry has fallen on hard times in recent years. The arrival of Eastern Filbert Blight (EFB) in the early 2000’s decimated the industry, leading to the demise of the local industry’s centerpiece, Penti Haaminen’s Canadian Hazelnut, its largest dryer, John van den Brink’s Eagle Nut Processors, and one of its largest growers, the Seabird Island band. Last year, Fraser Valley Hazelnuts dried only about 30,000 pounds of nuts which owner Don Hooge says was BC’s entire crop.

Despite that, the mood at the BC Hazelnut Growers Association’s fall field day at Helmut Hooge’s (a distant relative of Don) Greendale nut orchard, September 16, was optimistic. At least 50 growers and potential growers came to hear BCHGA director Thom O’Dell report on trials of EFB-resistant varieties in Hooge’s and five other orchards in the Fraser Valley and on Hornby Island.

Trial Jefferson, Sacajawea and Yamhill trees as well as Eta, Gamma and Theta pollinators were planted in 2011 and 2013. While Haaminen’s plot is history, Hooge’s trees – particularly the four-year-olds – are doing well.

“We’re in the sweet spot for growing hazelnuts,” O’Dell said, suggesting that new genetics and improved management practices could help the industry recapture and even exceed its past glory.

Prices are one encouraging sign. Don Hooge says growers received about $2.40 per pound for shelled Yamhill nuts while Walter Esau reported receiving about US$1.80 per pound for his Jeffersons, up from US$1.25 five years ago.

“Turkey (the world’s main hazelnut production area) had a bad season so Nutella is scrambling for product,” Don says.

The new varieties are EFB-resistant but not immune.

“In year three, we started seeing signs of EFB on untreated Jefferson and Sacajewea trees next to diseased orchards,” O’Dell admitted, telling growers it can be controlled through good management.

“Growers should scout for the disease every spring and prune it out as soon as possible,” he advises, also encouraging growers to apply fungicides during and after budbreak.

Growers have also noticed some winter damage, some yellowing due to having “wet feet,” and some drought stress.

“It’s a time to be keen observers,” O’Dell said, quoting BC Ministry of Agriculture plant pathologist Siva Sabaratnam.

The Oregon State University breeding program has since developed even more resistant and productive varieties and O’Dell will be bringing in five of the new varieties – Dorris, Felix, McDonald, Wepster and York – for testing next fall.

While the six varieties in the current trial are openly available, the new varieties are patent-protected so O’Dell may only test them. However, Sylvia Mosterman told growers Mosterman Plants is in “the final stages of discussion” with OSU to obtain the Canadian rights to the new varieties. Once they have an agreement, Mosterman and its sub-licencee, O’Dell’s Nature Tech Nursery, will be able to offer growers the new varieties.

“Nutella really wants the Wepsters,” Mosterman said.

Even if the agreement is completed in the next few weeks, do not expect trees overnight. New trees can only be brought into the province as tissue culture and it takes about 18 months to turn tissue culture into saleable trees.

No one is more optimistic than Don Hooge. He recently purchased van den Brink’s dryers, giving him the capacity to dry up to 1.4 million pounds of nuts a year. Although he expects this year’s crop to be similar to last year’s, he clearly anticipates future growth. He points out Seabird Island has replanted 100 acres, saying that orchard alone could produce half a million pounds in about five years.

Help could also be forthcoming from the new provincial government. Premier John Horgan’s mandate letter to agriculture minister Lana Popham directs her to “support…nut growers and processors to expand local food production.”

CLBC September 2017

Vol.103 Issue 10
OCTOBER 2017

Cranberries

The agricultural news source in British Columbia since 1915

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