Hazelnut Planning Considerations

Proper planning of a hazelnut orchard is essential to maximize a site’s management and production potential.

Some considerations are:

  • Crops growing in adjacent field
  • Locations of neighboring private residences or public buildings
  • Location of underlying tile drains and outlets
  • Direction of water flow
  • Soil profile and composition
  • Areas of concern (water pooling areas, outcropping obstacles, easements, etc.)

 

Commercial hazelnuts prefer a rich, light, well-drained soil, but plants can tolerate a wider range of conditions. Some hazelnut varieties have shown good growth on heavy clays, silt loams, and sandy loams.

Management will be dependent on the type of hazelnut being grown: the standard European species that is trained as a tree, or the hybrid that has a bush form. Trees require pruning for best production Hazelnuts are wind-pollinated and planting design must take this into account. Fertilization should be based on soil tests.

In B.C., tree hazelnuts are susceptible to Eastern Filbert Blight, a serious disease, while bush hazelnuts carry some resistance or tolerance to the blight.

A hazelnut orchard is ideally planted on level ground, for ease of machinery use when harvesting. If the site has low areas, frost may damage flowers and vegetative growth.

Commercial hazelnuts prefer a rich, light, well-drained soil, although plants can tolerate a wide range of conditions.  The best growing conditions for hazelnuts are:

  • Well-drained, deep (minimum 1.5-3.0 meters depth), fertile, moist loam to sandy loam, with profuse aeration
  • Soil pH between 6-7
  • Heavier soils will need adequate drainage
  • Sandy or coarse soils will reduce productivity in non-irrigated orchards

References:

Selecting a location with an appropriate quality and quantity of water is important as irrigation of the orchard will result in increased plant health. Always collect and analyze site or source water to determine the pH, salinity and other nutrients prior to use.

Ensuring the water source is plentiful enough to maintain the determined irrigation requirements for the specific field is necessary, as summers in British Columbia can bring drought and other complications with field management.

Note: In B.C., groundwater registration is mandatory as of 2016 and any water withdrawals from surface water must be licensed.

Although hazelnuts will tolerate considerable amounts of shade, nut production will only reach its potential in full sun. Some hazelnut varieties are quite drought tolerant once established. Hazelnuts are reasonably successful competitors, but without adequate weed control, growth will be significantly slowed. Hazelnut plants do not appear to be a highly valued deer browse.

Because hazelnuts are wind-pollinated, they require some air movement to transfer pollen. However, the canopy and developing crop are sensitive to damage by strong winds. Hazelnut plantings, like all horticultural crops, benefit with shelter from damaging winds.

Some areas in British Columbia could benefit from wind protection such as windbreaks as in some locations exposed male catkin flowers can be damaged during cold dry winter months. Most of the Fraser Valley locations are not in need of such an installation.

For areas of British Columbia that have hilled topography for orchards, such as the Okanagan and Vancouver Island, air drainage will be a factor. The most substantial issue is the risk of late spring frosts in low-lying areas of an orchard which can result in damage to expanding buds and newly emerged shoots.

Care must be taking to plan an orchard with a range of varieties that have different dormancy characteristics to help protect the grower’s investment and orchard productivity.

Although natural forested areas promote a healthy environment, hazelnut orchards are often affected by insect pests and diseases commonly found in forests.  Where new hazelnut orchards are established close to forested areas, monitor the health of the orchard and identify any symptoms of diseases and insect pests.

Some species and mammals like squirrels, deer and raccoons can consume considerable quantities of hazelnuts that are near ripe.

Hazelnuts have a wide range of potential applications in intercropping systems, depending on the varieties chosen. Hazelnuts can provide a windbreak that allows a landowner to generate some income directly from the windbreak.

The challenge in using standard European varieties in intercropping systems is that mechanized harvesting requires clean cultivation under trees.

Refer to the Agroforestry Production Development Tool from UBC (APD Tool) to better anticipate costs, revenues, challenges and benefits of an intercropping system with hazelnuts:

The tool comes with supporting documentation and a tutorial video.

Commercial harvesting is normally a highly mechanized operation with two main steps. First, the ripe nuts that have fallen to the ground are swept or blown into a windrow (a long continuous row) between the rows of trees.

A second machine then follows to scoop up the nuts, while a large fan blows away any unwanted debris. For efficiency, the area under the trees is carefully flattened and kept clean, often with the use of herbicides.

In 2016, annual world hazelnut production was approximately 773,000 metric tons (slightly higher than almonds). Turkey is the largest producer with 71 % of the world market followed by North America with 5 %, Europe is the largest consumer market followed by Asia and North America.  Most shelled hazelnuts are processed into confectionary and nut spreads. Nuts are also sold in the shell for the Christmas market, as a component of mixed nuts, processed into hazel butter, as well as into a premium salad oil.

The potential for new processed products and broader market development appears to be high. Small growers can maximize returns through direct sales or, if possible, by considering value-added products. At present, all hazelnuts in the world market come from the European species and its varieties.

The main area of production in North America is Oregon with 95% of commercial production and located in the Willamette Valley region. Until recently, the major disease pathogen on North American hazelnuts, Eastern Filbert Blight (EFB), was not present in Oregon orchards. Unfortunately, EFB is now established in the Pacific Northwest so in response, there is a very active breeding program at Oregon State University and they have developed a number of high producing varieties that demonstrate medium to high levels of tolerance to the disease.

In British Columbia, hazelnuts are the only nut crop produced commercially in B.C. although walnuts and sweet chestnuts are grown in a few orchards located in the southern regions of the province. Currently, there are about 40 B.C. hazelnut growers and they are located primarily in the Fraser Valley.

Past production is noted in the table below and pricing is set based off Oregon prices. Production is shown in the table below.

Table 1- B.C. Hazelnut Production (2006-13)
Year Conventional (lbs) % Total Organic (lbs) % Total Total (lbs)
2006 835,318 71.4 335,032 28.6 1,170,350
2007 721,182 74.8 243,434 25.2 964,616
2008 530,400 67.5 255,860 32.5 786,260
2009 868,265 79.4 224,760 20.6 1,093,025
2010 891,604 81.9 196,489 18.1 1,088,093
2011 546,000 72.6 206,306 27.4 752,306
2012 370,000 83.5 73,100 16.5 443,100
2013 850,100 77.3 250,200 22.7 1,100,300

The industry is now in the process of a major renewal due to the impacts of Eastern Filbert Blight (EFB).

Production should increase in coming years as newer plantings enter full production. A 2017 survey identified a total of 973 acres of hazelnut production divided into the following five categories: Active (285.5 acres); Replanted (137 acres); Abandoned (49 acres); and Removed (502 acres) (BCAGRI-ES Cropconsult, 2018).

The industry is served by one processing facility in the Fraser Valley which is part of the supply chain for Oregon processors. A large portion of this production is exported to Oregon by truck and a smaller portion of the production is sold locally as value-added products (such as hazelnut butter and candy products. In addition, new markets are beginning to develop as numerous consumer niche markets are seeking healthy nut-based food products.