SCRI projects seek to improve hazelnut production
One of America’s most promising new crops is not new at all—it’s widely used in European candy making and as cooking oil. In fact, its oil content is so high that a more profitable future may be in store as a source of biofuel and animal feed. The problem is the European plant is highly susceptible to North American fungal disease and commercial production of the American species is limited largely to Oregon.
The crop is hazelnut and two Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) grants administered by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) aim to improve the plant’s genetic makeup and provide elite cultivars that may be grown over wide areas of the nation.
The first project, the Hybrid Hazelnut Consortium, involves scientists from Oregon, Nebraska, and New Jersey in an effort to create hybrids of the European and North American species that will be high yielding, adapted to many climates, and resistant to eastern filbert blight (EFB). This group is collaborating with the Arbor Day Foundation to test new hybrids over many environmental conditions. EFB-resistant hybrids are currently replacing diseased orchards in Oregon at a rate of 2,640 acres per year with increased profitability of $4,954 per acre.
The second project, the Upper Midwest Hazelnut Development Initiative, involves scientists from Minnesota and Wisconsin who are collecting and cloning high-yield plants and then studying best management practices. This team is collaborating with the Hybrid Hazelnut Consortium by providing promising germplasm that can be incorporated into future hybrids.
Hazelnut is an ideal crop for sloped terrain. Farmers who have land near Lake Superior—land that is unsuitable for commercial production of most other crops—can produce gross revenues of $11,200 per acre with the highest-yielding clones. Much of this land is currently in conservation reserve. Widespread adoption of hazelnut production in an agro-forestry system will maintain the conservation services currently enjoyed while providing huge economic stimulus to the rural economies of these states. The potential to move this production system to other northern states greatly increases the economic impact of this project.
These projects have the potential to create profitable new industries across the entire United States and sequester carbon. Because hazelnut is 60 percent oil by volume (soybean is 20 percent oil), one of the crop’s greatest potential uses is as a source of biofuel to help meet America's energy needs. Further, hazelnut’s high protein content makes it valuable as animal feed after the oil has been extracted.
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