Growers, researchers collaborate to predict industry's future
By MITCH LIES
An idea hatched at a "blue sky" meeting in 2007 has evolved into a hazelnut growers sustainability initiative.
For an industry built on 50- and 100-year-old trees, sustainability is a natural fit.
"I feel like we are sustainable to begin with," said Don Christensen, chair of the Oregon Hazelnut Commission's science committee. "The (hazelnut farm) families have a long history.
"But, we haven't told our story well enough to our city cousins," he said.
Christensen, a hazelnut grower from Amity, Ore., said the idea to form the blue sky committee struck him while listening to two industry leaders.
"I was at a meeting with (hazelnut grower) Bruce Chapin and (Oregon State University horticulturist) Anita Azarenko," Christensen said. "I was watching them interact, and I thought: We have so much talent in this industry. We need to bring it together and exchange ideas, because we haven't done much of that."
Christensen, Oregon Hazelnut Marketing Board Manager Polly Owen and others took the idea for a blue sky committee meeting and ran with it. The idea, Christensen said, was to project what the hazelnut industry will look like in 25 years and plan for the future.
The industry sought to diversify the committee, bringing in young and old and large and small farmers.
From the meeting, the 20 or so growers, researchers and industry support staff developed a list of recommendations for the industry to consider. One of the items was a sustainability initiative.
"It is so easy to get caught up in everything you've got to do every day, you lose sight of that big picture," Owen said. "So to really take the time to do it, I felt was an important step for the industry."
The sustainability initiative was launched Sept. 15. A group of growers and handlers is working this fall and winter with OSU researchers, crop advisers and the sustainable farm certifier SureHarvest to develop modules to be used as benchmarks. The benchmarks will be used to help determine whether a farm's practices meet sustainability standards.
"Sustainability is variable depending on each operation," Christensen said. "One man's sustainable might be another man's disaster. There are a plate of practices to choose from."
The plan is to start a pilot program this spring.
Eventually, the industry hopes to get a majority of growers and majority of acres on board. The idea is for the industry to toot its own horn, Christensen said -- not so much for monetary gain, but for the social well-being a sustainable claim can generate.
Also, Owen said, being able to certify your industry is sustainable can help in regulatory arenas.
"The idea is not to put a label on it and make more money," Christensen said. "That is not our goal.
"It's more working toward sustainability as a grower-industry base, but also to relate to the community that we are doing a good job," he said.
By working to be more sustainable, growers might find a thing or two they can do more efficiently, Christensen said.