Ottawa announces $492,000 research grant for hazelnut crop
London Centre MP Peter Fragiskatos, top centre, announced a $492,000 federal grant for hazelnut production at the University of Guelph research station in Simcoe Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017. In front is Barbara Yates, an agronomist with Ferrero Canada in Brantford. At left is Dr. Wayne Caldwell of the University of Guelph while at right is Les High of the Ontario Hazelnut Association. MONTE SONNENBERG / SIMCOE REFORMER
Diversified production and expanded international trade are key components of the Trudeau government’s agricultural policy.
To that end, increased hazelnut production in southern Ontario is an important piece of the puzzle.
In support of this objective, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada announced a $492,000 grant to the Ontario Hazelnut Association on Wednesday at the University of Guelph research station east of Simcoe.
Research into the production of hazelnut trees suited to this part of North America has been underway at the station since 2008. The funds will continue the quest for hazelnut strains that are resistant to disease and stand-up well to harsh winter weather.
“Norfolk County is a hub of agricultural innovation in Ontario,” Dr. Wayne Caldwell of the University of Guelph said at Wednesday’s event. “This grant is another step in that direction.”
There are about 500 acres of hazelnut trees in Ontario at the moment. Researchers and the primary buyer – Ferraro of Brantford – estimate there is room in the market for 25,000 acres.
The presence of a reliable buyer is key to the hazelnut’s future in Ontario. Ferrero Canada fits the bill because major brands in its product line – Nutella, Ferrero-Rocher chocolates – are based on the hazelnut.
Barbara Yates, an agronomist with Ferrero, said the fact the Brantford facility is in the midst of a major expansion should inspire confidence in the farming community.
“The plant is expanding as we speak,” Yates said. “You can be assured Ferrero is here for the long haul. There will be a market for this crop. The north shore of Lake Erie is where we are focusing.”
OHA secretary Les High accepted the grant on behalf of the hazelnut association. He said corn and soybean producers are interested in branching off into hazelnuts. Tender-fruit producers and orchard operators are less inclined, he said, because they’re already involved with high-value crops in established markets.
Hazelnut groves require an investment of time and land. Saplings produce their first crop at about six years. The tree grows between 12 to 18 feet tall and will live for between 80 and 100 years.
Hazelnuts are delicious and nutritious out of the shell but also lend themselves to processing. Like almonds, they can be converted into flour, oils, milk and distilled products. Unlike almonds however, hazelnuts don’t require as much irrigation.
Challenges involve the production of strains that are resistant to bacterial blight and eastern filbert blight. The research station east of Simcoe is also searching for the most efficient means of irrigation.
“These innovations will bear fruit in the years to come and will be a catalyst for new growth,” High said.