Oregon Growers Go Nuts Over Hazelnut Demand

By Tom Bacon

A few Oregon farmers are downright smug this summer about another weather-inflicted crop disaster on the other side of the world. They're hazelnut growers, mostly in the Willamette Valley, responsible for virtually the entire US crop of the nuts.

A couple of factors are making dollar signs dance in the heads of the Oregon hazelnut orchardists - first, severe frost damage to the crop in Turkey this year - the country has a stranglehold on the world supply - and second, rising demand for hazelnuts in China. Already, acreage in Oregon dedicated to growing hazelnuts - or filberts - has jumped 50 percent over the last several years.

Michael Klein of the Oregon Hazelnut Marketing Board expects a good crop this year, and he anticipates more demand from US processors - especially the makers of Nutella - as Turkish growers are forced to raise prices to offset their crop losses. Already, the price for shelled nuts has soared about 60 percent.
Hazelnuts have never enjoyed the popularity of other nut trees such as pecans and walnuts, most of which won't grow in the Pacific and Inland Northwest.

The Arbor Day National Foundation has been trying to boost hazelnuts's popularity by offering starter plants with memberships. And most varieties are cold-hardy down to USDA zone 5, which includes much of Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

As optimistic as Klein is about this summer's crop, he's also a little bit worried. The sticker shock caused by Turkey's crop failure may turn buyers off hazelnuts altogether.
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