Hazelnuts are becoming even more popular with consumers, especially with new evidence that their high antioxidant composition is similar to dark chocolate and grape juice. Photo by Bob Rost.
Hazelnut harvest continues at the Dorris Ranch east of Springfield, where the hazelnut industry began more than 100 years ago. Today the industry is valued at more than $75 million a year.
Photo by Lynn Ketchum.
Throughout September, if you drive the back roads of northwest Oregon you
might see giant sweepers lumbering down the rows of hazelnut orchards, marshalling
the nuts into long windrows then scooping them into bins. The nuts cooperate
in their harvest by simply falling off the trees. Oregon produces 99 percent
of hazelnuts grown in the United States. Oregon hazelnuts, among the largest
of the world’s varieties and loaded with nutritious oils, are in demand throughout
the U.S., Europe, and China.
But more than 20 years ago, the future of Oregon’s hazelnuts looked bleak.
A fungal disease called eastern filbert blight had appeared in a few orchards
in Washington and the northern Willamette Valley. Soon spores were blowing
southward from infected areas, wiping out entire orchards and threatening the
The disease is lethal to hazelnut trees and difficult to contain. Searching
for a remedy, Oregon State University tree nut researchers set to work crossbreeding
tree varieties for resistance to the disease. Breeding new tree varieties takes
years, patience, and perseverance. Growers helped fund the research with more
than $2 million through the Oregon Hazelnut Commission. The work paid off.
All new varieties of hazelnuts that OSU has released since 2005 have genes
that are resistant to the blight. And Shawn Mehlenbacher, head of OSU’s hazelnut
breeding program, continues to develop new varieties with an even broader base
of disease resistance.
“Eastern filbert blight has not been stopped,” said Jeff Olsen, an OSU Extension
horticulturist who is helping hazelnut growers design and manage efficient
orchards. “But we’ve kept production at a steady level by managing older susceptible
varieties with pruning and fungicide sprays and by planting new orchards with
new blight-resistant trees.”
In addition, growers are actively adopting pest management strategies that
reduce the need for chemical applications. A successful strategy has been to
import a wasp that controls filbert aphid populations, according to Polly Owen
of the Hazelnut Marketing Board.
Healthy hazelnut trees can produce for 80 years or more, and sustainable agricultural
practices can keep orchards in the family through generations. And now hazelnuts
are becoming even more popular with consumers, especially with new evidence
that their high antioxidant composition is similar to dark chocolate and grape
In fact, chocolate and hazelnut would seem to be the candy lover’s dream combination.
“We saw confection sales of hazelnuts go up 13 percent from 2007 to 2008,”
Owen said. “And hazelnuts have cornered one-fifth of the nation’s gourmet chocolate