While this year’s pricing was a disappointment, the growth and yield of Willamette Valley hazelnuts was not.
“We’ve had extensive growth for the last few years,” Oregon Hazelnut Industry Office manager Meredith Nagely said. “Over the past 10 years we went from about 30,000 acres to more than 80,000 acres.”
The growth in acreage was sparked by expanding overseas markets such as China and the introduction of new hazelnut varieties resistant to Eastern Filbert Blight.
Of the total acreage, about half are 1-5-year-old orchards.
Mature, fully producing acreage now surpasses that of 10 years ago by about 10,000 acres, Nagely said.
Acreage devoted to hazelnuts in Western Oregon began ramping up in 2012, she said. In 2017, 10,881 acres were planted, and last year 8,652 acres were planted .
Over the last 10 years the number of growers has jumped from 500 to well over 800. Add to that the non-producing, 1-to-5-year-old orchards, and Nagely said the number of Willamette Valley hazelnut growers is pushing 1,000.
“We’ve been looking forward to seeing our acreage increase like that for quite some time,” Nagely said. “The 2018 harvest yielded 51,000 tons; the last time we even approached that was in 2001 with 49,000 tons.”
The accuracy of such counts and predictions is also improving with USDA’s collaboration with Pacific Agricultural Surveys over the past year and a half.
This year’s price negotiations presented new and unusual circumstances, including retaliatory tariffs from China — up to 65 percent on in-shell varieties — and the collapse of the Turkish lira.
The market made it clear to the bargaining board and handlers that a minimum price needed to be established to break the deadlock.
The three-tiered minimum field price is 91 cents for high shell-out varieties, 81 cents for mid shell-out varieties and 62 cents for low shell-out and in-shell varieties.
However, packers are committed to doing their best to create the greatest return for growers.
The Oregon Hazelnut Commission and the Oregon Hazelnut Marketing Board were being conservative in budgeting for a 45,000-ton yield for 2018 and were pleasantly surprised by the 51,000 tons.
While 2018’s yield surpassed 2017’s by 20,000 tons, the biennial nature of many varieties went into the group’s recent decision to again budget for 45,000 tons this year.
In the meantime, the growth in acreage will continue.
“We may see another 3,000 to 5,000 acres planted this year, but we want to be conservative,” Nagely said.
“We are fairly certain that whatever size crop we have it’s gold; it will have a market,” Nagely said. “Our processors, who are growers themselves, are continually working on the emerging markets, both domestic and international. They’re very innovative, as are the other growers.”