Ontario works to crack open hazelnut industry

In the past five years, 20 per cent of Ontario farmers surveyed say they've given new crops a whirl – hazelnuts, bok choy, buckwheat and quinoa, among them. And following a recent funding announcement, hazelnuts could take on even more prominence on southern Ontario farmscapes.

The federal government is dedicating nearly $500,000 to help further develop a hazelnut industry in Ontario, along with the University of Guelph, the Ontario Hazelnut Association and manufacturer Ferrero Canada.

Orchard management

With this funding, researchers will engage in orchard management techniques for drought stress in nursery trees, and establish production techniques to multiply hazelnut plants for commercial use.

"This new crop has enormous potential for Ontario, and this support has brought us much closer to realizing our goal of establishing 10,000 hectares in the province by 2027 and creating new economic opportunities for rural communities," says association chair Linda Grimo, whose family owns Grimo Nut Nursery near Niagara-On-The-Lake. In Ontario, about 500 acres of hazelnuts are currently in production.

For nearly a decade, the Simcoe Research Station and the university's main campus have been the site of a broad spectrum of hazelnut studies, including winter hardiness, disease resistance and rapid propagation.  

Benefits of diversity

The association says the benefits of hazelnut production start on the farm with greater opportunities for producers to diversify. But they extend beyond the farm, particularly to the city of Brantford where Ferrero opened a modern manufacturing plant in 2006, catalyzing the growth of the domestic hazelnut industry.

The recent funding announcement is the latest in the ongoing development of the industry in Ontario. Earlier this month, the province announced it was investing $11 million in the Brantford plant to boost productivity and create 80 new jobs.

In Canada, British Columbia has traditionally been the leading hazelnut producer. But a deadly blight has devastated the industry there. Producers hope research will lead to blight-resistant varieties, a pursuit that is underway in labs and field plots.

Bottom line

Federal funding to the Ontarian hazelnut industry poises the sector for growth.

Article by: Owen Roberts