Initial high price drives growers to glean every nut
By JOHN SCHMITZ
For the Capital Press
Except for a short rain spell at the front end of the harvest, Oregon hazelnut growers couldn't ask for better weather to bring in their crops.
"This weather is great," said Keizer, Ore., grower Bruce Chapin on Oct. 15. "The high percentage of nuts are going to be harvested by the end of the week, I think."
Chapin started harvesting his 300 acres of Ennis, Barcelonas, Lewis and Willamettes on Sept. 27. "I'll keep gleaning until the end of this month if the weather is good."
Chapin, who operates a receiving station on his farm for hazelnut handler Northwest Hazelnuts, said that he didn't pick for a few days early in the harvest because of rain.
From his point of view, USDA's August pre-harvest forecast of 27,000 tons "is probably pretty accurate ... and (it) may be even a little less than that. Definitely, the crop is down from last year."
"Defects are certainly higher this year than normal, varying by variety," said Newberg grower-handler Ben Mitchell, co-owner of Willamette Filbert Growers. "There's about 2 to 3 percent mold, where we normally have less than 1 percent. The percentage of blanks is considerably higher, varying from orchard to orchard at anywhere between 5 percent of Barcelonas to 20 percent."
Mitchell began harvest the last week of September and planned on wrapping up the week of Oct. 18.
"Boy, we lucked out with the weather," said Mike Klein, manager of the (Oregon) Hazelnut Growers Bargaining Association. "We were worried at the start because (the crop) was late, but it turned out to be just fine, with enough moisture to keep the dust down."
Klein, who said it looks as if the August USDA crop forecast will be on target, added that despite ideal, mostly dry harvest conditions, drying times are somewhat longer this year.
Klein said the record-setting initial price of $1.05 a pound "gives growers that extra little push to bring in every last pound of nuts."
Oregon Hazelnut Commission administrator Polly Owen, who guided several Food and Drug Administration officials from Washington, D.C., and Chicago as they toured five major hazelnut handlers, said that most of the processors agreed that the crop would come in close to the 27,000-ton USDA estimate.
"A couple said it could be even lower," she said.
Owen said she learned from the handlers that the volume of Barcelona nuts was "much lower" than other varieties.
"Because Barcelona is the major variety, that's the one making the big difference," she said.
As long as the dry weather holds, growers will be out to collect every last nut they can, Owen said.
One facet of smaller crops that growers and handlers aren't seeing this year, Owen said, is a higher percentage of larger nuts.
Only one handler said that mold was more of an issue this year, she said.
As for the visit by FDA officials, all of whom knew little if anything about hazelnuts, Owen said, "I think you can say that we put a face on the industry."