Late heavy rains hit crop hard, but sales look to increase overall

Although the National Agricultural Statistics Service predicts a yield of 40,000 tons once the hazelnut harvest is complete, the quality of the harvest remains FILE PHOTO - Sweeping up profits - The filbert harvest is almost complete this season. Although the crop might be damaged from late, heavy rains, Willamette Hazelnut Growers expect the yield to be up 8 percent from last year.

“A lot of growers got to pick early and by early I mean the week of Sept. 23, then the rains hit and we all know how hard they hit,” said Paul Newell, Willamette Hazelnut Growers manager. “We’re very concerned.”

Newell said that with heavy rains, there is an increased chance for mold and rancidity. For the two-thirds to three-quarters of filberts still in the orchards after the rain, this means there is a chance for an unhealthy crop.

The nuts are still in the dryers, so the outcome is undetermined. But growers are hoping for a positive outcome, he said.

And as always, blight is an issue as well.

“A lot of orchards (were) replaced with new varieties that are resistant,” he said. “Old orchards are being nursed along with the fungicide program.”

The program is part of a two-step process that also utilizes pruning to get rid of infectious plant.

“There were three to four varieties planted, but there’s no data because they’re not in the ground long enough,” Newell said. “They’ve only had two or three years in the ground but are very promising. They’re a better variety of trees that yield more, the quality of nuts is better. It’s pretty positive actually.”

Michael Severeid, Willamette Hazelnut Growers sales manager, said despite the less-than-desirable weather near the end of the growing season, sales are expected to be up.

“Prices for almonds, walnuts, every nut is up over the last year,” Severeid said. “It’s been beneficial for hazelnuts as well.”

He said this is because filberts are consumed like any other nut, but often are sought as a replacement if other nuts, almonds for example, are too expensive, because of their similar qualities.

Severeid said Oregon produces 99 percent of the hazelnuts grown in the United States and 3 to 5 percent of the global hazelnut market.

“The Oregon industry operates in a niche,” he said. “We supply the best in-shell hazelnuts in the world. The Barcelona and Jefferson (hazelnuts) have large, attractive shells.”

He said as the best in-shell nuts, they are sold to holiday markets everywhere for the Chinese New Year, Ramadan, Passover and others.

“We sell them everywhere,” Severeid said.

Newell said they planned to have everything harvested by mid-to-late October.

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