Hosts Jerry Clark and Ashley Olson discuss hazelnuts in the Upper Midwest with guests Jason Fischbach, UW-Madison Extension Agriculture Agent, and Lois Braun, Research Scientist with University of Minnesota. Lois and Jason have coordinated the Upper Midwest Hazelnut Development Initiative since 2007.
Recorded June 2, 2020
Jerry Clark, Ashley Olsen, Jason Fischbach, Lois Braun
JASON FISCHBACH 00:00
This is a podcast about new crops. You’re gonna love it. Join us on the cutting edge, a podcast in search of new crops for Wisconsin. (Music) And my answer is, well, we got to get growers ready. We need them to do their homework and need them because this is a long term investment. There’s a lot of risks for new crops and so we want educated growers and if that means we have 1000 people come in the door and only two, you know, 200 or 20 decide it’s right for them, good! (Music)
Jerry Clark 00:50
Welcome to cutting edge, a podcast in search of new crops for Wisconsin. I’m your co-host Jerry Clark with the University of Wisconsin Madison extension in Chippewa County, serving as an agricultural educator. My co host today is Ashley Olsen.
Ashlay Olsen 01:05
Yeah. Hi, Gary. I am Ashley Olsen. I also am an agriculture educator with Division of Extension. I am located down little further in Western Wisconsin in Vernon County, county seat of Viroqua.
Jerry Clark 01:22
And today we’ll be talking about hazelnuts as our alternative cropp. And Ashley, have you ever experienced hazelnuts?
Ashlay Olsen 01:32
Wow, that’s that’s a good question. You know, I did eat some Nutella when I was growing up and there are lots in there to get my extra protein in when I didn’t want to have just peanut butter because the Nutella has a lot more flavor with the chocolate as I was learning something about hazelnuts, but uh, Jerry, I think you have some hazelnut candy, don’t you?
Jerry Clark 01:56
Yeah, I was at a just this last weekend I was at a country store owned and operated by a Mennonite family, and came across some hazelnut spread m&ms. So there were some m&ms and in bulk, and so I bought as many as I could a couple boxes. And I don’t know how many bags are in a box. But that’s been what I’ve been snacking on here during this stay at home type of thing. So I’ve been stumbled across these hazelnut spread m&ms, and they’re pretty good. I was starting to look and there are lots of different aspects that go go into growing hazelnuts, and I’m excited to learn more about that today. Great. And I think as we move forward with our program today, I’ll introduce who our guests are. Joining us today on the cutting edge is JASON FISCHBACH. Agricultural agent up in Ashland and Bayfield counties, and Lois Braun with University of Minnesota. So welcome Jason and Lois to the cutting edge.
JASON FISCHBACH 03:00
Thanks, Jerry. Thanks, Ashley. Hi, Lois.
Lois Braun 03:02
Jerry Clark 03:04
Alright, so Jason and Lois we’ll let you guys kind of introduce yourselves how you got involved in hazelnuts. And, you know, in general, what’s this plant all about? And, you know, a little history behind how you got started.
JASON FISCHBACH 03:18
I got started in hazelnuts when I was in graduate school in 2003, 2004 I guess it was? And I was an agro ecologist by training, both undergrad and graduate school and one of the things that we learn in the agro ecology programs is how to complain about modern agriculture. And that seemed like a dead end. So I thought, well, maybe there’s something we can do about it. If there’s a lack of biodiversity on the landscape. If there are other opportunities for farmers. let’s develop them. Let’s Let’s come up with some new options. And at the time, I was working on Illinois Bundleflower, which is a perennial legume. Not sure it’s gone anywhere since I worked on it. But hazelnuts came along. And I thought, wow, this is a interesting cool crop. We don’t really have a nut crop in Wisconsin or Minnesota and maybe there’s opportunity there. And then I went off did other things after graduate school but then got a job with Extension up in Ashland and Bayfield counties. It turns out in Bayfield County, hazelnuts are wild throughout the county. And I thought well, let’s let’s see if we can make hazelnuts a crop up in our our country. So that was 2007 when I started with extension, and it’s been an exciting project ever since.
Jerry Clark 04:31
The Tell us a little background on on yourself and how you get what your work, career and work has been in with hazelnuts.
Lois Braun 04:39
Well, I’m not sure how far back I should go. But the first thing I did when I graduated from college was I got an internship with The Land Institute and that was 1985. If you don’t know the Land Institute, it is developing perennial perennial polycultures to solve those agricultural issues that Jason alluded to. And we were working with prairie plants, prairie perennials, mostly natives at that point. But then I left The Land Institute. And ironically, one of the things I complained about at the Land Institute was they were saying that it was going to be probably a 50 year project. And as a 22 year old, I felt like 50 years was way too long. But anyway, I went on and did other things that seemed a lot more immediate. Leave benefit things like working on farms and the Peace Corps, things like that. And eventually, I ended up doing a master’s degree in Georgia. But I met somebody from Minnesota had a romance with somebody in Minnesota and came up to visit him. And we were out biking in Lanesboro on the Root River Trail, which is rather flat and eventually gets rather boring because it’s so flat and he said, well, I know somebody near here, who I think you’d be interested in and let’s get off the trail into the hills and visit this guy. Well, it turns out that was Phil Rutter of Badgersett Research Farm which is one of the leaders on or I should say the pioneers on the hazelnut idea of making them be this new sustainable crop. Oh, it was. It was five years later, I was looking for a job at the University of Minnesota and one of my friends a professor at the U of M. had an internship he had a small grant to work with hazelnuts and offered it to me as an, as a graduate assistantship, and so I jumped at the opportunity.
Ashley Olsen 07:05
What made both of you decide to really go into and start working with hazelnuts, tell us a little background information about hazelnuts, the industry, what are they?
JASON FISCHBACH 07:18
I would say we were both kind of pushed into hazelnuts or pulled into hazelnuts by a couple of, of, kind of visionaries, I guess, in my mind. So Mark Shepard is a fellow down by Viola not too far from you, Ashley, I suspect.
Ashley Olsen 07:33
Yeah, right. I’m about a half hour from Viola and Mark Shepards farm.
JASON FISCHBACH 07:37
Yeah. So he’s a real inspirational speaker and set out a vision for what woody agriculture or a more diversified agricultural system might look like. And in some ways, he’s kind of left it up to folks like us to figure out the details. But anyway, that got me excited. And then there’s a professor at University, Minnesota, Don Wyse, who at the time was a weed scientist. Still is but does a lot of work in alternative crops. And so he he is kind of he’s the driver now behind the Forever Green Initiative in Minnesota that is working to develop all kinds of different perennial grains or, or also winter annuals to try to diversify and create continuous living cover. So he’s kind of these two visionaries, I think, got us both excited. And then in 2007, we finally started to formalize things and we pulled together a steering committee and a held a a strategic planning session that laid out and launched The Upper Midwest Hazelnut Development Initiative, and that was launched in 2007, the UMHDI and that’s been you know, a lot of ways my life and Louis’ life since then, we started out with a staff of zero and a budget of zero. And we’ve come a long way as I’m sure we can talk more about today.
Jerry Clark 08:52
So the the plant itself or the you know, thinking of the marketing of the market, so we’re we’re talking obviously about a nut, is this kind of a, is this more of a tree, a shrub or you know? Can anybody grow this? I know Jason, you referred to soils up in that Ashland Bayfield area, do they grow kind of anywhere? Or is this got kind of a specific climate or soil that it’s looking for?
JASON FISCHBACH 09:13
Yeah, so there’s three main species, if you will, from a crop standpoint. So there’s Turkish hazelnut, which definitely is a tree, doesn’t grow here. And then there is European hazelnut, which wants to be a multi stem shrub on its own, but it’s typically pruned into a tree form one or two stems. Then there’s American hazelnut, which is what grows wild in the upper Midwest, and that definitely is a shrub, it spreads its suckers, particularly in the wild. And then what we’re mainly interested and what we’re growing in the upper Midwest right now are hybrids between the American hazelnut and the European hazelnut. And we see quite a variation in form and growth habit. And so the jury’s still out in some ways in terms of how these are going to be grown. I think for the most part we’re thinking it’s going to be a hedgerow of shrubs, not unlike high bush blueberry production, where you’ve got shrubs that are six to 10 feet tall. And it’s continuous along that row. But there’s also some of these hybrids that we’re developing that probably could be grown as a tree form, you’d have to do some pruning, but then, you know, the harvesting systems and stuff will likely be different, or could be depending on the system. So we’re still early enough in the project, that it’s not exactly clear, how are the production systems will develop. It’s also I think, going to be driven a bit by the soils and climate, you know, the upper Midwest is really variable. So up here in the north, the plants don’t get as tall so we might go with the hedgerow system, but you go down south of say, Madison in those gorgeous soils and longer season and the plants are far more vigorous. So that might be a place where they’re grown more as a tree.
Ashley Olsen 10:55
And when you’re talking the difference, we’re talking some shrubs versus trees and different hybrids that have come about. Well, you said that you’re working with the experimenting between the American hazelnut or a mixture between American hazelnut and and the European hazelnut. How long does it take from experimenting with these new hybrids or varieties from planting them until you could start to see a crop of hazelnuts
Lois Braun 11:30
The research cycle or the breeding cycle in Oregon is about 17 years and from seeds to releasing a variety so you do the the controlled crosses in year one, you harvest the seeds in the fall of that year you plant the seeds the following year, and they will start producing, the precocious ones in about three, four years. Most of them will be in production by five years. If they’re not, we don’t want them. And then we like to collect at least three years of data from them before we decide that they’re any good, preferably more. So that takes us to about year eight, year nine, we do something called mound layering, which is a method of propagation to get clonal plant material clonal plant that are genetically uniform. And basically, it’s similar to grafting in apples, except you can’t graft hazelnuts, well, you can, but it’s not easy. And so we do mound layering instead, which produces a whole bunch of genetically identical plants. We plant those out in replicated trials because it’s only in replicated trials that we can be sure that what we’ve got is excellent because it’s got Excellent genetics as opposed to just happens to grow where the soil was optimal. And then, once they’re in there replicated trials, basically we repeat the whole sequence of waiting for them to mature, then evaluating them for at least three years, if not more. So that takes us up to about 17 years before we can release them.
JASON FISCHBACH 13:26
So the cool part of this project is that we didn’t start out at year one. The growers themselves what we call it, we call it early adopter growers, and there’s a lot of them when we did some survey work. When we started the project, we found almost 150 growers of hazelnuts, all small, you know, less than an acre typically, but some were pretty big 5, 10 acres, and they they took it upon themselves to start growing hazelnuts. So so they bought a bunch of seedling material, so seed or plants that they got from a couple of private breeders. Mark Shepherd and Phil Rudder who Lois mentioned, they made the crosses, they saved the seed. And they sent the plants out to the growers. And this was happening in, you know, in the 90s and into the early 2000s. And then, so they did all the they did all the hard work. And then we came along, mainly Lois in the early years and started working with the growers to find their single best plants. Sometimes one, two, three, maybe four from a planting, and then we mound layer those, put them into replicated trials, 2008-2009 evaluated them long enough that we were able to make some selections. So what we call our first gen selections, there’s 10 of them, and they’re currently in propagation to get out to growers for commercial production. It depends on you know, how risk your level of risk tolerance so some might say, let’s go let’s take these and plant thousands of acres. And others might say whoa, how about we do you know, maybe some five acre plantings here and there, because we’ve, we’ve shown that these are high performing across a range of environments. But these bore, you know, maybe 9-10 plants per each of five locations. And so they have not been tested in any big way yet. So there’s definitely a lot of risk involved this first gen material, but we’re at least confident enough to get them propagated and out to networks of growers or smaller scale kind of first adopters, if you will of the next stage. But when we can go into more of that detail, but anyway, that’s, that gives us kind of an overview of the breeding program. Now, Lois is taking the lead on on the breeding pipeline, so to speak, right? So again, the 17 years to do this stuff for one breeding cycle, but if you don’t start, then nothing ever happens. Right? So my favorite adage is what’s the best plant? What’s the best time to plant a tree? 20 years ago, what’s the time today, right? So same thing applies here. So once you get your pipelines set up though. And once you start, you know, then every year there’s something new and exciting coming out. And that that’s our hope that’s what we’re trying to do is institutionalize this project so that there is a support network and a breeding program that can sustain the industry for years and years to come.
Jerry Clark 16:16
What is the market right now? Or what what what’s it used for, you know, we’ve seen it in candies we’ve seen you know, in spreads and that kind of thing. what’s what’s the market for it? You know, if a person is ready to get in, is the market accepting them? Or is it flooded? You know, we we blasted things with industrial hemp in two years. And that that niche crop is is struggling to, you know, clear the market. So just curious, what’s the market right now and you know, if a person is ready to, to get into it is will the crop obviously, five years from now before they’re maybe have something ready to sell? What’s the market look like?
JASON FISCHBACH 16:52
So we’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this because the last thing we want to have happen is the typical boom and bust cycle of new crops right? We have some advantages in hazelnuts because everything moves really slowly. You’re not going to plant 10,000 acres this year and have 10,000 acres worth of production next year. Right? All this is going to take time. So that’s, that’s going to help us with that. But we have to think about sort of the tiers of markets. And we can look at some different crops as as models. And the first tier, the first model would be the Wisconsin Apple industry where there’s about 3000 acres or so. And most of those apples are sold direct to consumers or through relatively small wholesale accounts with a lot of Ag retainment thrown in, a lot of value added processing, some brand development around those value added products. And it does a good a good business across Wisconsin. It’s 3000 acres, it’s meaningful, right? And that’s a great first model, I think for hazelnuts where the growers can vertically integrate on their farm have a farm store, hazelnuts might be part of a larger operation. And their main goal is to capture that retail margin by selling direct to the consumer.
Jerry Clark 18:07
And how big is that market?
JASON FISCHBACH 18:08
You know, we don’t really know, with all of whenever you’re, you know, selling direct to customers, you’ve got to get out there and sell your product before what the market is, but we know there’s a lot of acceptance and and we eat hazelnuts, particularly fresh roasted hazelnuts, love them. It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t like hazelnuts, right? Then if you look at something like Wisconsin cranberries, we’re in the 20,000-25,000 acre market where you’ve got you’ve got companies that are aggregating, you’ve got an industry that’s doing the processing, like Ocean Spray, and they’re selling branded products across the country. So you’ve got that cranberry industry, and we’re starting to see maybe some of the beginnings of that kind of infrastructure developed in the Midwest. There’s the American Hazelnut Company, which is a group owned hazelnut processing and marketing company and we’re trying to support that through our processing accelerator by bringing in improved and bigger equipment to speed up the process for them. So we’ll see where that goes, you know, we’re a long way to ever getting close to to cranberry scale, but that’s kind of the next model. And then the big one, right, this is the commodity market. And all signs point to tail winds for hazelnuts across the country, right or across the world right now there. There have been analysts that have projected that by 2028, we’ll need double the supply of hazelnuts. So that would be the equivalent of adding about a million new acres of hazelnuts. And to give you some perspective of scale in the US right now, almonds in California, there’s about 1.3 million acres, Oregon, which is, is exploding in terms of production right now. They’re just adding thousands and thousands of acres. They’re only at 80,000 acres. And so in the marketplace, there’s this concept of peanut fatigue, or almond fatigue, consumers are looking for something else. Most American consumers have never really eaten hazelnuts. If you go to the grocery store they’ve been hard to find. And that’s changing, like you guys mentioned with the m&ms starting to show up everywhere because consumers are responding positively. So in our backyard, we have companies like General Mills, we have companies like Fisher Nuts, we have companies like Mars that currently use a lot of hazelnuts and have expressed an interest in sourcing locally, instead of having to rely on the fickle Turkish production, which is where most hazelnuts are grown right now. But in order to engage with a company like that, you know, you we have to have huge volumes, truckloads per day, not a truckload per year, and where we’re kind of at right now. So the market to me is is, is it’s a great time to get into hazelnuts. Everything moves slowly, who knows what the future holds. But because of these sort of three different tiers, and if we think about this strategically and provide these opportunities for growers before they plant, I think we’re going to have a more sustainable industry that avoids the big boom and bust.
Ashley Olsen 20:56
And so, Jason we’re talking about different companies and maybe willing to want to purchase hazelnuts, and we’re very small and still learning and growing in our area. We’re not like you set up a cranberry production yet, things like that. So if we are, say, in the Midwest, we’re growing hazelnuts. Where would we see our hazelnuts mainly being used going into food production? I mean, will we be raw nuts that we would just buy at the store and buy by the pound and eat or would we see them going into I see coffee, I had hazelnut coffee creamer before. Where would we see our hazelnuts going? What would they be going into?
JASON FISCHBACH 21:45
It’s a good question. But the short answer is everywhere. Right? And so oil, culinary oil, flour because it’s a you know, it’s there’s no gluten in it type protein. And then like you said it can be used as an ingredient in every product you can imagine, I just read an interesting article of about one of the packers in Oregon, one of the processors and they made the comment that you know, listen, hazelnuts are relatively expensive, in part because it’s got a fairly low percent kernel. So we’re that you know, at best with the Oregon varieties, we might push 50- 55% kernel, which is still a lot less than, say almonds, for example. And so the cost of hazelnuts is just inherently more expensive just because you’re growing a lot of shell at the same time. And so they really position hazelnuts as an ingredient in some other product. That’s why Nutella isn’t selling you hazelnuts. Nutella is selling you palm oil, cocoa powder and sugar, right hazelnuts, it’s just the flavoring. So I suspect that we’ll see and this it’s this is where most of the food companies are. They’re not selling you snack, hazelnuts. They’re using it as an ingredient in something else. So for example, breakfast cereals is a place where we’ll probably see hazelnuts once there’s sufficient volume and market acceptance, and they’re going to move a lot of hazelnuts that way, but it’s just a small component of the actual ingredients in, in breakfast cereal.
Jerry Clark 23:08
So from the from the plant standpoint, then, you know, so I assume if a farmer wants to get into this, they would purchase plants, actual seedlings and get them started, they’re not going to start from from the nut or, you know, it’s not like a seed type of or is that a possible or potential or an option for that farmer? Or should they? Yeah, explain that planting process, I guess.
Lois Braun 23:35
Yeah, umm at this point what a variety will be a clonally propagated plant. So it will not be a seedling a seedling by definition is something that has grown by grown from a seed. So umm right now I’ve mentioned this mound layering technique which I’ve been using to produce new plants for research plantings, but it is not very productive in terms of the number of new plants that can be developed from mound layering. So, what we’re trying to do instead is develop techniques called micro propagation or tissue culture, which involves growing hazelnuts out while taking little tiny cuttings of hazelnuts and growing them out on a petri dish under sterile conditions. And once they’re stabilized once they’re established on these petri dishes, you can divide them oh thousands of times to get genetically identical plants. However, micro propagation is proving to be, well hazelnuts are recalcitrant in micro propagation. So they don’t micro propagate nearly as easily as many other species of plants do. And we’ve got major research effort going into that. And in fact, what I was doing this morning, the reason why I couldn’t join you right away was because I was collecting cuttings for a micro propagation project.
JASON FISCHBACH 25:25
Lois, a good point to make is that right now the propagation is the bottleneck we face we feel like we’ve got the markets we feel like we, you know, we’ve still a lot of questions on the agronomics, but we we pretty much know how to grow these. We’re learning how to harvest them with some mechanical equipment. We think the markets are there. It’s just a matter of getting plant material to growers, and these stupid things just do not want to be propagated, and you know, that’s why we’ve got, you know, boatloads of money into it. Now we’ve got three different labs working on it. Because we we see this as, you know, large scale production. And that can have a significant positive effect on the agronomic landscape in terms of water quality, carbon sequestration, biodiversity, habitat, all these things that we need in our agricultural systems right now, if only we could get the plants propagated. But that said, so as a grower right now, you know, what would you grow. So we definitely are encouraging folks to wait for the clonal the proven material, but in the meantime, it’s also not a bad idea to plant some more of these seedlings. We see them they’ll have a role both providing a pollen cloud, because we want to make sure these are all wind pollinated. And they they’re not self pollinating. So they they need somebody else. So we want a bunch of dads out there, shedding pollen in the fields, and they can plant those now. And that that’s that’s a good idea. It’s also there’s still opportunities for growers to participate in plant breeding. And so one thing we’re doing now is starting to save seed from these top plants half siblings, we don’t necessarily know who the dads are on these. But if we’ve got growers that want to participate in breeding, they can get access or we’ll be able to release plant material and grow it out. And you know, most of the plants probably will be okay. But we want them to find the top ones that work on their site, their property. One thing we’re trying to do too is what we don’t want to see is as the plant material comes available, it just gets planted, scattered throughout the upper Midwest. It’s, it’s just not efficient enough because in order to do this, we need people to be sharing harvesting equipment, you know, these harvesting units are going to be 50,60, $70,000. The hazelnut processing that we do and Ashland, we have almost $100,000 worth of equipment there now. And so if you’ve got small growers scattered hundreds of miles apart, it’s just too inefficient. So what we’re trying to do is build clusters of growers. And with some new grant funding we got from USDA, we’re launching seven initial clusters and the idea is that for them to be geographically clustered so that they can share on all this infrastructure and input costs and that kind of thing. And also they can build their planting decisions around germ plasm trials. So we’re trying to get ahead of them. And each of these clusters by getting our, our more trials out, so we can be three, four years ahead of them, in some cases.
Jerry Clark 28:21
So would these be similar to like a grower network that you’re trying to, to line up or is this just beyond that, where you’re, you know, like you said, geographically looking at it versus someone who just wants to be part of a network. So we we expect in the way we’re kind of building this out is we’re sort of casting a wide net and making people sort of show interest and step up to the table and be what we would consider core growers. The folks that understand the risks have done the homework and are just passionate and want to make this work. So they’ll sort of lead the network and then you’ll have, you know, tiers of growers from there that are various levels of interest, some just lurking, watching, seeing. The’ll be later to enter the game probably. And then someone closer to the core might be, you know, hey, we’ll let you two go first or you five go first. And then we’ll be the next ones to plant, you know, so, and then each network will kind of set their own agenda. The idea is that we can do outreach education with them, but then they may choose to, as a network just aggregate and sell in-shell nuts, or they might want to take on as a group, the actual processing themselves and maybe even come up with some branded products. So it’s just up to them. The main thing we’re trying to do is when the plant material initially is limited, we just want to see it in clusters, so it’s close to each other. Plus, it’s a way for growers to share risks and information and all that stuff. That sounds like a good plan for those that are trying to get into it. Or you know, if they know of a grower nearby, kind of like hops, I think we’ve done it in Wisconsin now for a number of years where it seems like hop growers share equipment and and figure out where the nearest processor is or harvester and that kind of thing.
JASON FISCHBACH 30:00
I wish it was this was a model that all new crops used. I mean, imagine if hemp did this, right, there’d just be so many advantages, but it’s just hard in terms of, you know, trying to get growers to do that, but we have. So we’re also a little bit unique in that if we wanted to, because this plant material will be patented, and growers will essentially, you know, be paying royalties, but we could even license them to grow hazelnuts, and actually control who’s growing and where that would be the the easiest and most effective way to get these clusters of growers. And probably long term would be the smartest way to do it. But we’ve decided to not do that. It just feels a little too heavy handed. And so folks will be able to buy these hazelnuts but we’re just trying to organize grower clusters so that whoever buys them, they just happen to be living next to each other but anyone who wants to buy this will be able buy them.
Ashley Olsen 30:55
What what are you going for when you’re breeding and cross breeding the different varieties?
Lois Braun 31:02
We are, we’ve got a long list of traits that we’re looking for. And flavor is one of them. Um, we actually have a flavor scientist at the University, actually Ohio State University. My personal opinion is that with the exception of individual nuts that have clearly gone bad, I think that they all taste good. But the flavor scientists have figured out variation between different genetic lines. So their objective is to develop an assay by which we can identify those with good flavor. Ultimately, they would like to develop a method by which we can identify those with good flavor even before they’re old enough to produce any nuts. Wow. Sounds pie in the sky to me, but apparently that technology already exists for tomatoes. So the idea behind it is that if we plant a hazelnut and have to wait three, four years, five years before we get to find out what it tastes like, that’s a lot of time and resources invested. Whereas if we can call the, the bad ones or actually I think they’re, they’re focusing first on off flavors, if we can identify which ones have bad flavors and eliminate them, right when they’re still seedlings in the nursery. That saves us a lot of effort
JASON FISCHBACH 32:49
Lois, I’ll jump in a little bit here on the flavor side. So we did some sensory analysis to compare the aroma and flavor using trained taster panels, where we took some wild hazelnuts and we had the the, the tasters compare them to some standard European varieties. And not all, but but most of the American selections rated higher for both flavor, intensity, and aroma than the European varieties. And we’ve had growers tell this for years that American hazelnuts taste better. And in some ways that’s not surprising because a lot of our wild type progenitors of crops tend to taste better. Right. So the wheat lines, this is kind of a standard story. So we’re not too far removed from these wild plants. You know, we’re like one, maybe two generations out in the wild. So we they like Lois said, they all taste good. But we do you know, we’ll taste hundreds of these different varieties of plants as we do our analysis. And I’ll tell you, there is a big range and flavor if you’re sort of paying attention, some are pretty bitter. Some are really sweet and everything in between. And so, one thing I’d like to see is, is develop some geographic provenance in terms of hazelnut production and almost follow like the Italian model where this part of the country produces this cheese in this part, a different cheese and there’s a lot of a lot of focus on flavor as an attribute. And so hazelnut oil is almost identical to olive oil in many, many ways. And we would really love to see all of our, at least starting with our locavores, the folks that professed eating local is they’ll tend to eat everything local except what coffee, chocolate and olive oil. Well, here’s an opportunity to quit importing olive oil and start eating hazelnut oil because you can use it the same way. But then we’ve got depending on what nuts you use, you can make different flavors and qualities of hazelnut oil, so we could see some differentiation there and that gives some access to you know, potentially a big market share of the the culinary oil which is olive oil, if we can get consumers to replace that but it also provides some opportunity for differentiation in high value sales selling high value stuff, getting back to, you know, your sort of market tiers, you can sell a premium hazelnut oil because of superb flavors, because the genetics and the hazelnuts, it just gives you some advantages as a grower.
Jerry Clark 35:14
So part of your processing up there in Ashland- Bayfield, Jason, do you have a crushing facility or a press to look at the oil content? Or isn’t that part of the…
JASON FISCHBACH 35:26
Yeah, so in Ashland, we can take the nuts in husk and we’ll remove the husk and then we can do cracking. And then we can separate the kernel from the shell, the the hazelnut processing accelerator, it’s a private public partnership. And so our one of our partners is the American Hazelnut Company in Gays Mills. And I believe they’re Richland County, I think. And they, they actually do the oil pressing there. And they’ll do the bottling and all that stuff. So so we just do some of the primary processing and then they do the oil.
Ashley Olsen 35:58
So roughly How many when you’re harvesting hazelnuts and and sending them off, it goes by the pound correct? And then it could go by the nut itself or sell with the shell and we’re talking about the replacing some olive oil with hazelnut oil, how many pounds of Hazelnuts does it take to make, I don’t even know what oil how how much oil comes in a container that we would purchase olive oil for cooking, they’re not very large a lot of them you buy how many hazelnuts would it take to make pounds of hazelnuts to make some oil?
JASON FISCHBACH 36:36
Well, let’s see if we can do some math here. So Hazenuts are 60% oil by weight. In oil, okay. Oh yeah, very much so, one of the highest oil contents of nuts and most oil that the American Hazelnut Company sells seems to be the popular is 8.4 -8.5 fluid ounces. So at some point I did this math to figure how many pounds.
Lois Braun 37:01
So, on average, our hazelnuts are one third kernel armumm to shell. So basically, two times as much shell weight as kernel weight. So multiply point three three by point six, and you come up with just about point two. So in other words, five pounds of in shell nuts to one pound of oil.
Jerry Clark 37:33
Does the shell have value then how is that is that used in?
JASON FISCHBACH 37:37
We wish, because hazelnut growers don’t grow kernels, they grow shells, right? I mean, even Oregon, half of what they grow is shell right? So right. We’ve had companies look at it to make kitty litter. There’s companies that are trying to use ground up hazelnut shells for organic weed control where you actually use it basically as an abrasive and you spray it on the weeds to blast them apart. There’s been some use for like sandblasting. But we’re looking for the golden ticket on the hazelnuts to give it some high value. You can burn it. You know, it’s really high in btu content, especially when it’s dried down.
In Oregon, everywhere you go, it’s hazelnut shells as mulch. So there’s always that value because it takes forever to break down because it is dense wood. But yeah, so if you’ve got a sweet idea for how to sell hazelnuts for lots of money, we would hazelnut shells. We’d love to
Ashley Olsen 38:31
The problem with using hazelnut shells for mulch, though is that squirrels really love it.
JASON FISCHBACH 38:37
Yeah, they’ll dig through. They’re looking for any kernel scraps. That’s right.
Jerry Clark 38:42
That was that was one question I had. Jason, you mentioned earlier, you know, the biodiversity getting it out on the landscape, you know, and that kind of thing. Is it a? Is there a pest management issue with it? Is there any insects or wildlife other than squirrels obviously, but anything else do deer browse it or do you need to fence it in with like orchards apple or…
Lois Braun 39:02
All of the above. Okay.
JASON FISCHBACH 39:06
Yeah, it’s not a preferred browse for deer because it’s got these sticky trichomes on it but we definitely see some buds being chewed off in the fall and the grouse will eat the catkins, turkeys like the catkins. When those nuts are ripe, every critter in the country comes calling. You know my property I’ve got oh, I don’t know, half an acre hazelnuts and I won’t see a blue jay all year. And then the day the hazelnuts are ripe. I’ve got 50 Blue Jays in there.
Ashley Olsen 39:31
Is that a sign that it’s time to go harvest them then.
JASON FISCHBACH 39:35
It’s always the day I’m leaving for like a conference and there’s no way I can pick for like three days. It always works that way. But as long as you keep tabs on them and know when they’re ripe. And you got to be ready, then you go pick, you know, so and in in Oregon, where they’ve got, you know, 80,000 acres. Yeah, they lose some hazelnuts to the critters and they’ll basically say they lose the perimeter row. But with 80,000 acres you know, you feed the wildlife and you feed yourselves and so if you have two plants, people are always complaining that the squirrels steal all their hazelnuts because they do. If you’ve got 2000 plants, the squirrels can eat that many hazelnuts if as long as you’re there starting to pick right so now we’re definitely so on the herbivory and nut theft, that’s definitely always going to be an issue to some degree. Right now we’re kind of in the honeymoon period with disease and pest problems, because we don’t really have enough hazelnuts out on the landscape, for these pest populations to build. But the two main ones we’re worried about on the insect side would be big bud mite, which is a little microscopic mite that gets in the buds and damages them, and then nut weevils. So anyone who’s wild harvested hazelnuts, they’ll know that a lot. A lot of times those nuts will have holes in them and with no kernel. So we’ve got a graduate student at University Minnesota now working on both of these pests to start develop some degree day models and better understand our hope is to not have to spray for them, you know, but with so many breeding objectives. We probably won’t have resistance to these insect pests necessarily, it might be more by chance than anything else. So there’s gonna have to be some attention paid to pest management, we want to do IPM we’d rather folks not have to just spray. So we’ll see what the beneficial complex looks like and what other opportunities there are. And we got to figure out what the thresholds are. On the disease side, the one that we’re all definitely afraid of is is Eastern filbert blight. It’s a endemic disease in in our populations, but American hazelnut has co evolved with it so we see some resistance and tolerance to it quantitative in particular, but it’s lethal to hazelnuts when it moved into Oregon, it almost killed the industry. And they’ve had to rely on some fancy breeding to get some single gene resistance and even that’s starting to break down. So that’s why they’re looking to us for American hazelnut genetics to get better disease resistance built into their European hazelnuts. So we’ll see. Our stuff has been tested, but again, when they’re co evolving. It’s always sort of a race, right? Eastern filbert blight is a highly variable species and likely will adjust to the new varieties that we get out there and there’ll be a push pull for forever, just like any crop, you’re always gonna have to deal with some disease pressure.
Jerry Clark 42:16
So from a planting standpoint, then, you know, is there a certain density that, you know, say I did have a half an acre and it let’s use an acre, you know about how many plants can you fit in there and, you know, in a few years, what would your, you know, average production expectation be provided things go somewhat, whatever normal is.
Lois Braun 42:37
That’s something we’re trying to figure out. I’ve started several trials, testing, plant spacing, and right now I’m testing three feet apart within rows, comparing that three feet, six feet, nine feet, 12 feet, and it one side actually 15 feet because the bushes can get upwards of 10 feet tall and equally wide or wider. I think the widest bush I’ve measured was 14 feet. Um, so I find that within a genotype yield is highly correlated with plant size. But the question is, if we pack them in tighter, we can we get a higher per plant acre or not. And it’s it’s an unanswered question.
JASON FISCHBACH 43:36
The standard right now is generally six feet in row spacing 15 feet between row spacing we’ve done we’ve got these Wisconsin production trials that we’ve been running for almost 10 years now and what we found is six by 15. works okay in like Stoughton and the plants are because there’s they’re still vigorous that they’ve more or less filled that growing space. Now there’s concern going forward, you know, after a decade if hey’re too big. So what do we do now? But unlike Spooner or Bayfield, where the soils aren’t as fertile and the season is shorter, six by 15 is probably too wide. We’ve got a lot of if you want to call wasted space between plants in between rows, so packing in a little higher density should increase the per acre yields and Lois is right, the internal shading is an issue so we don’t want these huge hedgerows with all the hazelnuts 20 feet tall and shading everything out what we’d like to see is almost like a high density apple system, where you’ve got smaller, more compact plants packed in tightly and you’ve got this rolling solar curtain if you will, lots of surface area where the sun is shining on fruiting wood to produce lots of hazelnuts, and we’re actually seeing the almond industry shift from big open grown trees down to these dwarfing trees that are managed smaller and then they’re straddle harvested. So this is definitely a trend that’s happening across all fruit crops, but now starting in nut crops too. Small plants, but lots of them per acre.
Ashley Olsen 44:57
So how much or how many acres? I know, Jason, you mentioned you have a smaller half acre patch. How much many acres or trees and you’re now, we’re talking more actually what you’re going to is more of a shrub to make it easier for harvesting mechanical harvest, things like that. How much area would a person need? Or how many acres should they plant? Because there’s obviously some money in hazelnuts If a person’s looking to grow them, and it looks like it’s a booming, potential alternative crop that people can get into how many acres would they need of hazelnuts? And how much could they potentially expect to make? I know there’s I know, that’s a lot of questions but…
JASON FISCHBACH 45:39
And as you know, in Extension the answer is, it depends! Right?
Ashley Olsen 45:44
That wasn’t the answer we’re looking for.
Yeah. So we have a publication out called,” Can I make money growing hazelnuts?” that’s on our website, Midwesthazelnuts.org that tries to answer these questions and lays out a model by which a grower can kind of input their own numbers and figure it out. The problem is that the how many acres you need depends on the equipment that you have to have. So if you’re totally on your own, and you’ve got to pay for a $50,000 harvester, you know, you’re going to need a lot more acres than if you are a grower in a network that is sharing a harvester. And you might be able to do you know, one acre or five acres versus somebody totally on their own might need 15 or 20. It also depends how you’re selling. If you’re selling direct from the farm and you capture the full retail margin, you’re going to have an easier time cash flowing the operation than if you’re selling $1 a pound in Shell nuts and that’s all you’ve got. Right? But anyway, so we we anticipate based on the projections and things from our to try to answer your question more specifically, is you know, we should see 2000 to 2500 pounds of in Shell nuts. If you’re just selling in shell nuts that’s $1 -$1.50 a pound. It gives you one sense of the revenue If you crank them out, you’re looking at, you know, a third to maybe point or 40% kernel. And if you could retail them at $10 a pound, you know, again, it’s gonna depend on your production costs, then you could be looking at, you know, let’s say you’re at 2500-$3,000 net per acre is kind of where we’re at, which is not that far from the Oregon model, actually, in their their numbers. So it’s definitely got more income potential than standard commodity crops. But the risks of course, is you’re not going to see positive cash flow until you’re four or five, you’re not going to see breakeven until your nine most likely if all goes well, not unlike apples or blueberries or any of our other perennial fruit crops. But then you’ve got a crop that’s going to last 30 years and pretty low inputs once things are established and matured, basically some weed control, probably some pest management and harvest Hopefully we can develop the genetics. So that pruning is the need for pruning, or at least hand labor is minimized. That’s our goal. So anything that’s done is done mechanically, but we’ll see.
Ashley Olsen 48:11
Yeah, that’s what’s really nice about this, this alternative crop is that we could, you’ll, it’ll be there and sustainable for years and years to come down the road, which is really nice once you figure out getting established, and it does take a few years, but after that, yeah, there really won’t necessarily be a lot of extra labor involved. But as you and Lois were both discussing, working with the different varieties of the flavors and tastes and trying to get, you know, not as you know, much shell things like that. So as you come out with new varieties and say, I’m going to start growing hazelnuts, and I plant all one variety. 10 years from now I’m finally getting a decent crop of hazelnuts, but that’s not the variety the buyers want. So now what do I do? Or do you not see that happening?
The dilemma that every perennial crop grower faces, right? They put in 10 acres, honey crisp, and all of a sudden the markets flooded or when they come into production? Yeah. So it’s, there’s no easy answer to that. I think. Initially, we don’t want to see growers growing one or two of these varieties. We’re trying to get them to grow all 10 of them, both for some genetic diversity, but also playing the risk game of maybe some of these varieties don’t pan out for whatever reason, well, at least I’ve got nine others,right.
Lois Braun 49:40
And also, there’s the pollination issue there. They are not self compatible, so you have to have at least two different varieties in order for pollination to work.
Jerry Clark 49:51
So as we wrap up, Louis and Jason, what would be your one piece of advice for farmers or landowners looking to go into hazelnuts knowing that they’re in it for the long haul? But upfront, what should they consider to kind of minimize that risk or, or think about as they get into this new crop?
Get involved. That to me is number one is start learning, start meeting other hazelnut growers start meeting the researchers and start to do your homework. Right? And I would encourage Now, you know, folks that are selling selling plants right now would want me to give a higher number and others would say No, that’s too risky. But generally what I say is, get some experience with the seedlings buy 100 plants. Learn what it’s going to take to do the site preparation, the planting the weeding for the establishment phase so that when it’s time when there are bigger volumes of the improved material available, you know what to do you know how to plant them. And you know if it’s the right thing for you, you know, so Definitely at this point stage, and that’s why, you know, sometimes I get criticized that well, why are you talking about hazelnuts so much right now when you don’t even have plant material available to growers? And my answer is, well, we got to get growers ready. We need them to do their homework and need them to because this is a long term investment. There’s a lot of risks for new crops. And so we want educated growers. And if that means we have 1000 people come in the door and only two, you know, 200 or 20, decide it’s right for them, good. Then we’re likely going to have a more sustainable industry, then you know what happened with hemp? I get calls from I got calls from dentists and others who had no clue they’ve never grown anything and all of a sudden they’re planting 50 acres of hemp because they could, right, we don’t want to see that happen with hazelnuts. So that’s why we’re getting out ahead of this and trying to make sure we do a lot of groundwork and laying a foundation. So when the improvements are available, we’re ready, and we’ll do it right.
Ashley Olsen 51:54
Well, it sounds like a really great alternative crop to look at getting into too. And we really appreciate learning a lot of different aspects about the hazelnuts today, especially from two people who really, you both are really working and really doing a lot of groundwork for hazelnut production. And I would also say checking out the website that Jason had mentioned earlier with the UMHDI, the upper Midwest Hazelnut Development Initiative, that looks like a website that a person looking but wants to browse, and maybe not talk to somebody right away can look at that website as well.
Jerry Clark 52:38
All right, thank you, Lois, and JASON, for joining us on the cutting edge today. Appreciate it.
Lois Braun 52:45
Thank you. (Music)
JASON FISCHBACH 52:54
This has been the cutting edge a podcast in search of new crops for Wisconsin. Brought to you by the University of Wisconsin Madison- Division of Extension. (Music)