Seven generations of Denfelds have farmed


For the Capital Press

The Denfelds grow hazelnuts, a crop with rapidly increasing popularity in the WillametteValley.

HILLSBORO, Ore. — The crop mix has changed, and they’ve added to their packing facility, but one thing has remained constant with the Denfeld family of Hillsboro, Ore. For seven generations, dating back to 1872, the Denfeld family has been farming in the north Willamette Valley.

With three young children already in the mix and possibly more on the way, odds are this farm family will just keep going.

The Denfelds have farmed many crops in their history, but for most of the past 80 years they’ve concentrated on orchard crops. The farm grew plums from the 1940s until earlier this century, when Paul Denfeld, who now runs the farm with his son, Sean Denfeld, decided to pull out the last of the plum trees.

“I got tired of fighting the weather … and hauling the crop to Vancouver,” Paul said. “We had older orchards, older trees. We just decided not to replace them.”

The farm has grown walnuts since John Mulloy, Paul’s grandfather, started producing them on the Hillsboro-area farm in the late 1920s, and it continues to do so today.

Hazelnuts, now the farm’s mainstay, entered the mix in the 1960s when Paul’s father, Melvin Denfeld, started planting the nuts.

Today the farm produces 350 acres of hazelnuts, along with 225 acres of walnuts. It also processes and packages hazelnuts for other growers, some from as far away as Eugene.

The farm decided to expand its packing operation in the mid-1980s to gain better control over their product. The farm expanded their processing operation again in 2005 when the Denfelds built an additional processing building.

Adding processing capacity guarantees you a job, Paul said, and usually means you’ll at least make some money, even when markets are bad.

“You’re still making money, whether you’re putting a low-value crop or a high-value crop into the plant,” Paul said.

“Some years your margins might be razor thin,” said Sean, whose main responsibility is operating the plant. “It depends on the market on the finished end and the market of procuring the product from the growers.

“Also, there is some risk,” Sean said. “You can purchase the product at one price and then the market declines while we’re holding the product.”

The last eight or so years, however, risk has been minimal in the ever-expanding hazelnut market, Paul and Sean said.

“The world-wide demand for nuts in general has continued to increase,” Sean said. “That is the main thing driving these good prices.”

The farm sells the bulk of its nuts in-shell to China. “There is such a demand for it, they are using all we can ship to them,” Paul said.

The Denfelds have no fear of the crop being overproduced in the near future, even with some projecting a 50 percent increase in hazelnut acres in Oregon in coming years.

“The whole world is consuming more nuts in general,” Sean said, “and we produce only 3 or 4 percent of the world supply, and our hazelnuts are premium to any other in the world. As long as we continue to brand them as such, we will be fine.”

Denfeld Orchards

Location: Hillsboro, Ore.

Name of farmer and family: Paul Denfeld and Sean Denfeld

How long in business: Since 1872

Acreage: 575

Crops: Hazelnuts and walnuts


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