Dec 20, 2023 - Business

Enjoy an Oregon hazelnut this holiday season

A photo of a mountain with green, bushy hazelnut trees in the foreground.

Oregon is home to nearly 100,000 acres of hazelnut trees. Photo: Courtesy of Northwest Hazelnut

Nearly all of the hazelnuts produced in the U.S. are grown in the Willamette Valley.

  • The crop is one of Oregon's most valuable agricultural products, and the industry is in the middle of an upswing thanks to new international investment and sustainable harvesting techniques to stave off potential blight.

Driving the news: Hazelnut farmers are likely to take home $300 million in sales this season, according to Eric Groves, the chief financial officer of George Packing, a processor based in Newberg.

  • Nearly 100,000 acres of hazelnut farms are in Oregon— up from 30,000 acres in 2007, according to Groves.

In the past, the winter holiday season meant peak sales for hazelnuts, with the vast majority being shipped to China for Lunar New Year celebrations, he said.

  • But now with more nuts, orchards and distributors, "sales are much more spread out."
Hazelnuts ready for harvest. Photo: Courtesy of Northwest Hazelnut Company

What's happening: Confectionery manufacturer Ferrero, which produces Nutella, is also planning to increase its hazelnut sourcing from the state, Marco Botta, Ferrero Hazelnut's CEO told Axios in an emailed statement — giving a nod to the region's "climate, soil, and most importantly the ingenuity and commitment of hazelnut farmers."

  • "We'll continue to move at this pace of growth to support the market," he said.

Flashback: A fungal disease caused widespread blight throughout Oregon orchards in the early aughts and was responsible for dwindling sales and slow growth.

  • Since then, hazelnut farmers have teamed up with Oregon State University to combat the spread by removing older trees and interplanting new blight-resistant varieties developed by local researchers.

The intrigue: New upright-style tree varieties allow for easier harvesting — and "requiring very little transient labor," Groves said — while the type of soil found in the Willamette Valley paired with its traditionally moist climate doesn't require irrigation on the part of most farmers.

  • Oregon's biggest competitor is Turkey, which produces 75% of the world's hazelnut supply.
  • But instead of going head-t0-head with that behemoth, Oregon hazelnut farmers are instead planning to focus on domestic sales now that their supplies can keep up with demand.

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