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Intercropping popular in new hazelnut orchards

Published on June 20, 2012 3:01AM

Last changed on July 18, 2012 6:30AM


For the Capital Press

Ever since they put in new hazelnut plantings four years ago near St. Paul, Ore., the Coleman farm has raised a variety of annual cash crops.

The new Jefferson orchards, now totaling 180 acres, have produced annual crops such as red clover seed, wheat and bush beans, Ben Coleman said.

In addition to providing cash as the hazelnuts mature, the annual crops offer erosion control in those orchards located in a particularly hilly portion of the farm, Coleman said.

As more Willamette Valley farmers add hazelnuts to their operations, many are looking for ways to cash in on the venture before the commercial nut crop arrives. Over half of the growers are choosing to intercrop their orchards, said Wilco Farmers certified crop advisor Tim Aman.

Aman, who covers Marion and parts of Yamhill counties from the co-op's Donald office, said that in the last few years he's been involved with the installation of thousands of acres of hazelnuts.

Aman and his two brothers -- Tom and Kevin -- who are also Wilco agronomists, are hazelnut growers and operate Aman Brothers Nursery, which raises micropropagated trees supplied by Micro Plants in Gervais.

Intercropped crops vary, Aman said.

"Some of my growers have raised snap beans, sweet corn, cauliflower, crimson clover seed and red clover seed," he said.

During the wait for a commercial crop, growers alternate their intercrops.

"What they might do is plant a wheat crop the first year, then go into two years of crimson or red clover seed, and then during the fourth year will leave the orchard alone because potentially they'll be picking nuts."

Aman said that many of the new orchards are double-density plantings, with the goal of having twice the harvest when the first merchantable crop is produced.

Regardless of whether growers single- or double-plant they still have 20-foot alleyways between tree rows for annual crops, Aman said.

Aman said that the new Oregon State University varieties are highly precocious.

"You can get 200 to 300 pounds per acre in the fourth or fifth year, easy, double that for double density," he said.

Double-planted orchards are thinned to half their densities after 10 to 12 years, when the tightly packed trees begin to interlock.

When intercropping, about 15 feet of the alleyway are plantable to the annual crop, Aman said. Any more than that and lodging at the edges could interfere with the young hazelnut trees.

Aman said that since the last survey of hazelnut acreage in the valley five years ago, 10,000 to 12,000 acres have been added, which would bring the total to 40,000 to 42,000 acres.

Because hazelnuts are one of the hottest crops in the valley the last several years, lending institutions are more willing to back the crop, Aman said. It costs around $1,000 an acre to establish a standard orchard on 20-by-20-foot spacings and double that for a double density planting at 10 by 20 spacings.

In his area OSU's Jefferson variety, which is marketed inshell and reaches heights of eight feet in the third year, leads new plantings over Yamhill, a kernel variety.

"Jefferson pretty much rules," he said.


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