Oregon's No. 1 nut gets better with new OSU varieties
OSU's new hazelnuts are immune to the yield-reducing 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. Oregon's approximately 600 growers produced $63 million of hazelnuts in 2012 harvested on 29,000 acres.
But more than 20 years ago, the future looked bleak. A disease called eastern filbert blight was threatening to devastate orchards.
So OSU researchers set to work, crossbreeding tree varieties for resistance to it. They've since released 17 cultivars that are immune. The latest contribution was in 2013 with Wepster, a high-yielding, blight-resistant hazelnut whose smaller size makes it ideal for the baking and chocolate industries.
Growers 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 survey 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.
Sources: Polly Owen, manager of the Hazelnut Marketing Board; USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service; OSU hazelnut breeder Shawn Mehlenbacher.