Hazelnut heaven in Sim­coe

Ot­tawa an­nounces $492,000 re­search grant for hazelnut trees

Simcoe Reformer - - FRONT PAGE - MONTE SONNENBERG

Di­ver­si­fied pro­duc­tion and ex­panded in­ter­na­tional trade are key com­po­nents of the Trudeau govern­ment’s agri­cul­tural pol­icy.

To that end, in­creased hazelnut pro­duc­tion in south­ern On­tario is an im­por­tant piece of the puz­zle.

In sup­port of this ob­jec­tive, Agri­cul­ture and Agri-Food Canada an­nounced a $492,000 grant to the On­tario Hazelnut As­so­ci­a­tion on Wed­nes­day at the Univer­sity of Guelph re­search sta­tion east of Sim­coe.

Re­search into the pro­duc­tion of hazelnut trees suited to this part of North Amer­ica has been un­der­way at the sta­tion since 2008. The funds will con­tinue the quest for hazelnut strains that are re­sis­tant to dis­ease and stand-up well to harsh win­ter weather.

“Nor­folk County is a hub of agri­cul­tural in­no­va­tion in On­tario,” Dr. Wayne Cald­well of the Univer­sity of Guelph said at Wed­nes­day’s event. “This grant is another step in that di­rec­tion.”

There are about 500 acres of hazelnut trees in On­tario at the mo­ment. Re­searchers and the pri­mary buyer – Fer­raro of Brant­ford – es­ti­mate there is room in the mar­ket for 25,000 acres.

The pres­ence of a re­li­able buyer is key to the hazelnut’s fu­ture in On­tario. Fer­rero Canada fits the bill be­cause ma­jor brands in its prod­uct line – Nutella, Fer­rero-Rocher choco­lates – are based on the hazelnut.

Bar­bara Yates, an agron­o­mist with Fer­rero, said the fact the Brant­ford fa­cil­ity is in the midst of a ma­jor ex­pan­sion should in­spire con­fi­dence in the farm­ing com­mu­nity.

“The plant is ex­pand­ing as we speak,” Yates said. “You can be as­sured Fer­rero is here for the long haul. There will be a mar­ket for this crop. The north shore of Lake Erie is where we are fo­cus­ing.”

OHA sec­re­tary Les High ac­cepted the grant on be­half of the hazelnut as­so­ci­a­tion. He said corn and soy­bean pro­duc­ers are in­ter­ested in branch­ing off into hazel­nuts. Ten­der-fruit pro­duc­ers and or­chard op­er­a­tors are less in­clined, he said, be­cause they’re al­ready in­volved with high-value crops in es­tab­lished markets.

Hazelnut groves re­quire an in­vest­ment of time and land. Saplings pro­duce their first crop at about six years. The tree grows between 12 to 18 feet tall and will live for between 80 and 100 years.

Hazel­nuts are de­li­cious and nu­tri­tious out of the shell but also lend them­selves to pro­cess­ing. Like al­monds, they can be con­verted into flour, oils, milk and dis­tilled prod­ucts. Un­like al­monds how­ever, hazel­nuts don’t re­quire as much ir­ri­ga­tion.

Chal­lenges in­volve the pro­duc­tion of strains that are re­sis­tant to bac­te­rial blight and east­ern fil­bert blight. The re­search sta­tion east of Sim­coe is also search­ing for the most ef­fi­cient means of ir­ri­ga­tion.

“Th­ese in­no­va­tions will bear fruit in the years to come and will be a cat­a­lyst for new growth,” High said.

MONTE SONNENBERG / SIM­COE RE­FORMER

Lon­don Cen­tre MP Peter Fragiskatos, top cen­tre, an­nounced a $492,000 fed­eral grant for hazelnut pro­duc­tion at the Univer­sity of Guelph re­search sta­tion in Sim­coe Wed­nes­day. In front is Bar­bara Yates, an agron­o­mist with Fer­rero Canada in Brant­ford. At left is Dr. Wayne Cald­well of the Univer­sity of Guelph while at right is Les High of the On­tario Hazelnut As­so­ci­a­tion.

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