New OSU crop specialist focuses on growing hazelnut industry

October 5, 2015
As crops specialist for OSU’s Extension Service, Nik Wiman will spend majority of time on hazelnuts. Photo by Stephen Ward.
As crops specialist for OSU’s Extension Service, Nik Wiman will spend majority of time on hazelnuts. Photo by Stephen Ward.

AURORA, Ore. – Oregon State University has hired a new orchard crops specialist to help the state's rapidly expanding $91 million hazelnut industry, which grows 99 percent of the U.S. crop.

Entomologist Nik Wiman, who spent the last three years at OSU researching the brown marmorated stink bug, fills a position held for 30 years by Jeff Olson, who died unexpectedly in January 2014. Wiman is based at OSU's North Willamette Research and Extension Center in Aurora.

“There’s a lot of pent-up need by growers,” said Mike Bondi, the center's director and a regional administrator for OSU’s Extension Service. “Nik will be facing a lot of folks hungry for his help.”

“The hazelnut industry is in a state of extreme expansion,” said Polly Owen, the director of the Hazelnut Industry Office. “Farmers are replacing other crops with hazelnuts and people new to farming are planting hazelnuts. In both cases, the need for basic facts about hazelnut production without bias from vendors who sell products is very important. The position requires a high degree of passion for the entire industry and a 360-degree view of all that makes up the industry. Nik has that.”

The stink bug and eastern filbert blight are the two most serious problems for hazelnut growers, but other aspects of production need attention, too, said Wiman, who earned a doctorate in entomology from Washington State University.

“We have a very successful breeding program at OSU led by Shawn Mehlenbacher that has introduced blight-resistant cultivars,” he said. “But we also need to address issues like soils, irrigation and pruning. There is a huge boom of orchards going in on marginal soil with questionable practices. I want to address that. I want to help the growers get the most production out of their trees.” 

Oregon hazelnut growers produced 75 million pounds of nuts and posted sales of $91 million in 2014, according to Owen. 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.

Hazelnuts won’t be Wiman’s only responsibility. He will devote some of his time to issues affecting fruit tree crops such as apples and pears.

“Nik has an excellent research pedigree and experience with Extension and outreach education,” said Bondi. “He also has a very strong background in orchard crops and horticulture, so he can work across the range of fruit and nut tree questions and needs.”

“Right now I’m in the listening stage,” said Wiman, who will spend 80 percent of his job on Extension and 20 percent on research. “I’ve only been on the job for a short time and already I’ve had a lot of good interactions with industry people and a lot of support from the hazelnut commissions and organizations.”


Author: Kym Pokorny
Source: Mike Bondi