By MITCH LIES

Capital Press

Oregon State University Extension agent Jeff Olsen is fielding an inordinately high number of calls this year from growers seeking information on starting a hazelnut orchard.

Olsen, partly in response to the requests, will host a workshop Dec. 4 for those wishing to move into hazelnut production.

A similar workshop is being offered in January at the close of the 95th annual meeting of the Nut Growers Society of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.

Olsen said he's happy to provide growers information on starting orchards in one-on-one sessions. The group sessions, however, can be more beneficial.

"It benefits new growers being in a room with other new growers," Olsen said. "Often the questions one will ask is the question someone else will be thinking about but didn't ask."

Olsen said he believes several factors are aligning to spark interest in hazelnuts this year, including the fact the crop is doing far better than most other crops in the current recession.

There's also the fact the industry now has varieties available that are resistant to Eastern filbert blight.

"Some people have been holding back waiting for those varieties to become available," Olsen said.

The fact hazelnuts are harvested by machine is attracting growers who are looking to reduce labor costs, Olsen said.

"With hazelnuts, you can have a productive situation with few people involved because of the mechanization of the harvest," he said.

Finally, Olsen said, the industry has plenty of room to expand.

Oregon produces only 3 to 5 percent of the world's supply of hazelnuts, Olsen said.

"There is plenty more room for Oregon hazelnuts in the world supply," he said.

Hazelnuts are produced on roughly 31,000 acres in Oregon.

Establishing an orchard, Olsen said, isn't cheap. And growers go three to four years before they get a harvest. Orchards typically don't reach full production for a decade.

With grass seed and wheat prices below the cost of production, however, more and more growers are turning to high-value crops like hazelnuts, Olsen said.

The New Hazelnut Growers Workshop will be 1-5 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4, at the Yamhill County Public Works Auditorium (next to the Yamhill County Extension office) at 2050 Lafayette Ave. in McMinnville.

Staff writer Mitch Lies is based in Salem. E-mail: mlies@capitalpress.com.

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