Oregon hazelnut growers can expect to harvest a record hazelnut crop in 2018, according to the latest production forecast from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service

PHOTO COURTESY OF CAPITAL PRESS - The USDA predicts that this year's hazelnut harvest will increase from last year's 32,000 tons to 52,000 tons.

George Plaven

Capital Press reporter

This year's hazelnut crop will be a record, according to the latest USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service forecast.

The latest production forecast issued Aug. 21 calls for 52,000 tons of hazelnuts, surpassing last year's total of 32,000 tons and the previous record of 49,500 tons set in 2001.

Meredith Nagely, manager of the Hazelnut Industry Office in Aurora, said the report comes as little surprise. Hazelnuts tend to be alternate bearing, meaning low yields one year are usually followed by higher yields the next.

Overall hazelnut acreage is also on the rise, with 72,353 acres of orchards across the state — including 40,000 acres of mature, nut-bearing trees. Total acreage has more than doubled in the past 10 years, Nagely said, and rose from 66,980 acres in 2017.

"I think interest has piqued," she said. "We have a high-quality product and there's just a huge potential."

Tom Klevay, CEO of Willamette Hazelnut Growers in Newberg, said he anticipates greater harvests for the foreseeable future as growers continue gravitating toward hazelnuts and new plantings reach maturity in the coming years.

"Hazelnuts, you don't have to plant them every year," he said. "In the eyes of the grower, it's a crop that represents a good opportunity so that's where they're placing their bets."

Oregon is responsible for nearly all of the United States' hazelnut production, but accounts for less than 4 percent of the world's supply. Nagely said industry leaders are working hard to develop new markets, both domestically and overseas, though higher tariffs in China and lower prices offered by Turkey have combined to heighten trade anxiety.

In Turkey, the world's predominant hazelnut producer, the lira has dropped about 60 percent compared to the dollar so far this year, which could potentially depress global hazelnut prices. Meanwhile, China slapped an additional 15 percent tariff on U.S. hazelnuts in April following the Trump administration's increased tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum.

While the prospect of selling more hazelnuts may not seem appealing at first glance, Klevay said a larger — and more predictable — supply of Oregon-grown hazelnuts may actually increase demand, opening new avenues to sell the crop.

"We feel that as the supply gets larger, the demand will follow, similar to what's happened with pistachios and almonds," Klevay said. "Our crop is known to be very high quality, and those markets that are looking for quality are opportunities for us going forward."

Nagely said recent developments in China and Turkey have brought the Oregon hazelnut industry to the forefront, and that is not necessarily a bad thing.

"Our hazelnuts have been in a lot of discussions recently," she said. "It's an opportunity for us to make some things happen."

While hazelnut yields may experience record highs, the same USDA forecast noted a record low average nut size. Nagely said the hot, dry weather may at least be partially to blame. The Willamette Valley, where most hazelnuts are grown, has received 85 percent of its normal precipitation for the current water year, and the entire region is now listed in severe to extreme drought.

The weather may also push the beginning of harvest season up to mid-September, Nagely said. It is expected to run through October, possibly into early November.

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