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Hazelnut production poised to spring forward in Ontario

600 acres of hazelnuts expected to be grown in 2015

 

By Geoff Farintosh, University of Guelph Agricultural Communications Student, for Farms.com

The prospect of hazelnut production in Ontario is being enhanced by new research and innovation that’s made the notion extremely appealing to producers.

Canada spends more than $100 million importing hazelnuts each year, and this number is increasing each year. With the price per pound having doubled recently, many Canadian farmers are looking to tap into this niche market. In fact, the amount of hazelnut acreage is expected to increase exponentially in 2015. Elliott Currie, a professor at the University of Guelph and the Executive Director of the Ontario Hazelnut Association, says farmers are confident taking the risk to grow hazelnuts as researchers have defined the best varieties and growing practices.

“We are likely on the brink of significant growth in a new major horticultural crop,” he says. “Ontario is embracing these new opportunities to enter a global market, and using its advantages to serve the industry.”

The University of Guelph has been conducting research on growing hazelnuts, from micropropagation right through to orchard management techniques. With the University teaming up with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and food manufacturer Ferrero Spa, deals are starting to be made and farmers are looking to hop on board.

That said, it’s still a fledgling industry. In 2013 only 40 acres of hazelnuts were grown in Ontario. But, in 2014 that number rose to 100. And in 2015, Currie predicts upwards of 600 acres will be grown.

And as more hazelnuts are grown, a whole new segment will arise within the agri-food industry. Currie predicts up to 3,000 new jobs will be available to researchers, nurseries, growers, aggregators (businesses that collect and prepare nuts before they’re processed), intermediate processors, and retailers.

Hazelnuts are already extremely popular in Europe. And now, says Currie, North America is starting to recognize them as not just a treat, but also a healthy option. A study from Harvard University last year showed six to eight ounces of hazelnuts (or other tree nuts) a day can extend life expectancy.

Hazelnuts offers high amounts of dietary fibre, folate, vitamin E and protein. They are also gluten free, so they can be consumed by those avoiding gluten or with celiac disease.

Currie says he and many others believe that as the industry grows, Ontario can reach at least 20,000 acres of hazelnuts.

Hazelnuts are currently selling for upwards of $17 per pound at bulk food stores. But Currie believes with Ontario investing in the industry, these prices will drop for consumers.

This article is part of Geoff Farintosh’s course work for the University of Guelph agricultural communications course, instructed by Prof. Owen Roberts.


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