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  • Oregon hazelnut crop smaller than expected

    Oct 13th, 2015

    Oregon's hazelnut crop is smaller than initially expected but demand remains strong, quality is high and the low moisture content of nuts offers multiple benefits.Oregon’s hazelnut crop isn’t living up to expectations in terms of quantity, but high quality and strong demand are providing farmers with an upside.The state was initially forecast to produce about 39,000 tons of hazelnuts in 2015, but with the harvest winding down, it looks as if the crop may come in below 37,000 tons, said Mike Klein, executive director of the Oregon Hazelnut Marketing Board.“It looks to be short,” he said.Multiple factors contribute to hazelnut yields, such as weather during the winter pollination season, Klein said.This past winter was mild, which may have caused flowers to bloom either too early or too late for optimum pollination, he said.When new orchards are planted, farmers now use more than one “pollenizer” variety to hedge against such an outcome, but older orchards often depend on a single variety for pollination, Klein said.Eastern filbert blight, a fungal pathogen that affects hazelnuts, has also taken a toll on older orchards that aren’t resistant to the disease, said Tim Newkirk, CEO of Willamette Hazelnut Growers.Increased prevalence of the disease also causes farmers to prune trees more aggressively, which decreases their capacity to produce nuts, he said. “I think it’s a combination of a lot of things.”

    Newkirk said it was unlikely that this summer’s dry conditions contributed much to the reduced crop, since there isn’t a large amount of nut shrinkage that’s usually associated with drought stress.“Hazelnuts are a pretty hardy tree,” he said. “The quality looks really, really good.”The dry weather has sped up the maturation of hazelnuts, with the harvest occurring several weeks ahead of the normal schedule.While the harvest typically ends in November, this year it’s expected to be done by mid-October, said Newkirk. “Usually, that’s the heart of the battle there.”Due to the lack of rain, hazelnuts are also coming in drier than average, which saves growers from paying as much for drying services when they bring their crop to receiving stations, said Klein.Hazelnuts that have been rained upon generally consist of 20 percent moisture at harvest, but this year they’re in the low teens, or even the 10-11 percent moisture range, said Newkirk.Drier nuts provide a food safety benefit, as bacteria and mold are likely to fester in moist conditions, said Jonathan Thompson, CEO of the Northwest Hazelnut Co.“They’re harvested off the ground, so the drier, the better,” he said.The initial field price that processors are paying farmers for hazelnuts is set at $1.22 per pound, which is the second-highest on record, said Klein.Last year’s initial field price of $1.81 per pound was an anomaly caused by significantly lower yields in Turkey, the foremost hazelnut producer, he said. “That was the result of the extreme shortage of hazelnuts on the world market.”Hazelnuts are a good long-term investment due to the strong, stable market for the crop, said Larry George, who owns George Packing Co. and the Northwest Hazelnut Co.Oregon is the largest hazelnut-growing state in the U.S., but produces roughly 5 percent of the global crop, he said.Meanwhile, global consumption of hazelnuts is rising six percent annually, George said. “The consumption is going up by the size of an Oregon crop every year.”