by DAVE PINK
Hazelnuts could be the newest money-making opportunity for some Ontario farmers, provided they’re willing to wait up to seven years for the payoff.
Erie Innovation and Commercialization, a branch of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, says new varieties of the tree crop can be planted anywhere that apples are grown.
“There’s been a lot of interest, and everyone we’ve been talking to understands that it will take years to get up to full production,” says Shelley Imbeault of the OFVGA. “But once the trees are in, there is very little labour involved, and a lot of farmers are looking at crops that are not labour intensive.”
The OFVGA has identified a high-revenue market potential in Ontario for hazelnuts that’s equivalent to about 25,000 acres of trees. Typically, says Imbeault, about 200 trees would be planted per acre at a start-up cost of about $9 a tree.
It can take four years for hazelnut trees to start bearing fruit and seven years before they hit full production. By then, however, the potential net return is estimated at $2,000 per acre. Brantford’s Ferrero Canada Ltd., which manufactures Nutella and Ferrero Rocher chocolates, currently imports its hazelnut supply but is very interested in accessing a stable, locally grown source.
As part of a major hazelnut research project, researchers have been screening hazelnut varieties for resistance to eastern filbert blight and the ability to withstand Ontario’s climate, as well as establishing methods for fast and reliable propagation of seedlings. The project, which involves OFVGA, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, University of Guelph, Ontario Centres of Excellence and industry partners, also involves gathering market intelligence, helping the industry get organized and planning for the infrastructure the industry will need as it grows.
Prospective growers are being invited to three information sessions in the coming weeks to discuss hazelnuts and financing options. Two of these sessions will be held June 25, the first from 9 to 11:30 a.m. at the Quality Inn and Suites hotel at 580 Bruin Blvd. in Woodstock, and the second from 1: 30 to 3:30 p.m. at the SCOR Economic Development Office at 4 Elm St. in Tillsonburg. A third meeting will be held June 26 from 9 to 11:30 a.m. at the Norfolk District Business Development Corporation offices at 4077 Hwy. 3 East in Simcoe. To register e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 519-854-7414. BF