Oregon's No. 1 nut gets better with new OSU varieties

a tractor drives through a hazelnut orchard
Hazelnuts are harvested in late September or October after they have fallen on the ground. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum.)
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OSU's new hazelnuts resist the tree-killing eastern filbert blight fungus

The hazelnut is Oregon's official nut. It's no surprise given that Oregon grows 99 percent of the U.S. crop. Early reports indicate that Oregon's approximately 650 growers produced $92 million of hazelnuts in 2013 harvested on about 30,000 acres. But more than 20 years ago, the future looked bleak. A disease called eastern filbert blight was threatening to devastate orchards.

OSU researchers set to work, crossbreeding tree varieties for resistance to it. They've since released 18 cultivars that are resistant. The latest contribution was in 2014 with McDonald, a high-yielding, blight-resistant hazelnut whose size and blanching ability make it ideal for the baking, snack and chocolate industries.

Growers generally don't need to spray these new varieties with fungicides – and that helps their bottom line and the environment. The trees are taking root. A report found that more than half of the 2,730 acres planted between 2009 and 2012 were Jefferson, a variety released by OSU in 2009. Unofficial estimates, however, say the number of new acres during that time was 11,000 to 12,000, with more than half being Jefferson.

Learn more about OSU's hazelnut research with this video.

Sources: Polly Owen, manager of the Hazelnut Marketing Board; USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service; OSU hazelnut breeder Shawn Mehlenbacher.

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