Fruit & Vegetable Magazine

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Creating an industry


August 27, 2013
By David Manly


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Aug. 27, 2013 – Introducing a new crop to farmers can be a difficult process, but Shelly Imbeault, a project coordinator for Erie Innovation and Commercialization (EIAC), believes that they have a perfect new crop for Ontario growers – hazelnuts.

“Many years ago, we came across a specific market, that a Ferrero plant was opening in Brantford,” said Imbeault. “That plant actually opened up a big market for us because they are the number one purchaser of hazelnuts in the world.”

However, there was an overall decrease in the world supply, primarily due to social unrest and changing demographics in Turkey – which supplies approximately 80 per cent of the world’s hazelnuts. This presented an opportunity to Ontario growers, which the EIAC, in conjunction with the University of Guelph, was keen to explore.

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Dr. Adam Dale, a professor and plant agriculture researcher at the University of Guelph, was already looking into if hazelnuts could be grown in Ontario, but with a minimal amount of success. According to Imbeault, there were three barriers to the development of a hazelnut industry in Ontario: Could hazelnuts survive in the Canadian climate? There was also concern regarding the prevalence of Eastern Filbert Blight, a fungus that affects hazelnuts. And lastly, would consumers enjoy the taste and flavor profiles of Canadian-grown hazelnuts?

But after five years of research, Dale and his fellow researchers believe that farmers can begin planting varieties of hazelnuts in Ontario and grow the market. Imbeault says that there are many benefits to farmers growing hazelnuts, especially the fact that they are mechanically harvested. “We don’t have to worry about really, really high labour costs, which is always what drives the profit down on a commodity.”

The EIAC, as part of the Fruit and Vegetable Grower’s Association, got involved with Dale’s research in 2008 through an initial letter of support resulting in a full-time partnership with the university, which will continue until at least 2019.

The next step of the research will be to monitor the experimental trees planted at various farms, as well as continue breeding trees to develop increased cold and blight tolerance in order to increase planting range. “The trees are eastern filbert blight tolerant, not resistant,” said Imbeault. “Although they might get the blight, it will not affect production. But we want to get it to the point where there is no blight.”

The downside of cultivating hazelnut trees is that they are a long-term investment, as it can take up to four years for the tree to establish itself and begin bearing fruit that can be sold. “We don’t foresee many negatives, other than that it is a high-cost upfront,” said Imbeault. “The upside is that we predict that you will make, based on the assumption that the farmer is starting from nothing, a $2,000 per acre profit. And we predict there is a need for 10,000 acres of hazelnuts in Ontario. It is very, very high.”

“It is also based on a worldwide cost of $0.89, and currently the cost is sitting at about $1.09.”

For more information on growing hazelnuts in Ontario, please contact Shelly Imbeault at 519-854-7414 or shelleyimbeault@ofvga.org