OSU announces new hazelnut variety

Mateusz Perkowski/Capital Press OSU breeder Shawn Mehlenbacher announces a new variety of hazelnut, the McDonald cultivar, at the annual meeting of the Nut Growers Society in Portland, Ore., Jan. 29.

PORTLAND — A new variety of disease-resistant hazelnut aimed at the kernel market has been released by Oregon State University.

The cultivar, McDonald, was found to be “consistently productive with consistent quality” by a farmers’ advisory committee that evaluated the trees.

OSU breeder Shawn Mehlenbacher announced the new variety at the annual meeting of the Nut Growers’ Society in Portland, Ore., on Jan. 29.

While the cultivar has “not excellent yield, but good enough,” the kernel fills nearly 51 percent of the shell, which is a high proportion compared to other cultivars, Mehlenbacher said.

“More of what you harvest is edible,” he said.

For example, the Jefferson variety that is popular among Northwest growers produces nuts that fill roughly 43 percent of the shell.

McDonald also has a lower incidence of mold than Jefferson — 1 percent versus 4-5 percent, he said.

The size of McDonald trees is “grower friendly” at about 70 percent of Barcelona, a traditional industry staple. The new variety’s nuts also mature about two weeks earlier.

The cultivar is named after Peter McDonald, a hazelnut grower from Wilsonville, Ore., who died last year.

“I hope the new release lives up to the name of the man for which it’s named, otherwise I’m in trouble,” Mehlenbacher told the audience.

McDonald was instrumental in funding the breeder position at OSU and kept hope alive when Eastern Filbert Blight, a fungal pathogen, threatened hazelnut production in Oregon.

“We went through some dark years, not sure the industry would survive, and he pushed for a brighter future,” Mehlenbacher told Capital Press.

The McDonald cultivar is meant to supply the kernel market, which uses the nuts for chocolates and similar confectionary products.

Currently, roughly half the kernels consumed in the U.S. come from Turkey, the dominant global hazelnut producer.

“There’s a wonderful opportunity to replace imports,” Mehlenbacher said.

While the new cultivar contains a gene that confers resistance to Eastern Filbert Blight, McDonald was recently found to display some symptoms of the disease.

Such “strikes” have been known to occur on previously released resistant varieties, which may indicate the resistance gene isn’t completely expressed by some trees.

When disease pressure is heavy, growers can expect some cankers associated with the disease to develop.

McDonald derives its resistance from Gasaway, a hazelnut variety that has been used in breeding since the late 1970s.

More recently, hazelnut selections from Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and Georgia have also been found to withstand EFB and will be used to develop future cultivars.

“Eventually we hope to pyramid several resistant genes into single cultivars,” Mehlenbacher said.

Oregon State University will be seeking a plant patent for the cultivar and will collect a 50 cent royalty per tree sold to Oregon growers.

The new cultivar is compatible with Wepster and York, previously released pollinizer varieties.

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