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A growing problem for hazelnut crops could be offset by funding from the USDA and local partners

USDA PHOTO - Funding is available to help farmers fight soil erosion in hazelnut orchards.

Yamhill and other surrounding counties will soon be eligible for funding to fight against soil erosion for the large number of hazelnut orchards in the area.

Funding is available through USDA's Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Hazelnut growers may apply for the program by contacting their local USDA Service Center in Marion, Polk, Washington and Yamhill counties, according to a press release.

The funding is part of a team effort between local soil and water conservation districts, the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Oregon Hazelnut Commission, the Oregon Department of Agriculture and Oregon State University.

The funding is provided to local hazelnut farms to fight against soil erosion by planting cover crops and perennial vegetation between rows of trees.

Hazelnut orchards are typically managed to eliminate vegetation on the orchard floor to minimize plant competition with the trees and facilitate a clean harvest. However, these bare soil conditions have caused many hazelnut orchards to experience severe soil erosion, especially during the rainy winter months.

Erosion impacts the health and productivity of the soil and can pose water quality issues if excess sedimentation washes into streams, according to a release from the USDA.

NRCS and local soil and water conservation districts admit there are several challenges to farmers that make broad adoption of perennial vegetation or cover crops difficult.

To help growers overcome the financial expense of adopting cover crops, project partners are providing financial assistance that will cover 75 percent to all of the costs for farmers.

The cost-share assistance will help farmers plant permanent vegetation or cover crops in between rows, establish field borders and place mulch in seasonal erosion trouble spots.

These activities will help keep the orchard floor covered when it is most vulnerable to winter erosion, which will also increase water holding capacity in the soil, increase organic matter and soil productivity, and improve water quality.

The funding initiative stems from work already being done by early adopters of permanent conservation cover on hazelnut orchards in the Willamette Valley, such as Ioka Farms in Marion County.

"Some folks are concerned about the cover crop taking more water away from the hazelnuts, but it's not an issue if we mow it properly," said Doug Duerst of Ioka Farms. "We are more concerned with the benefit the cover provides to save the soil."

OSU Extension is working with growers on cover crop trials to make better recommendations to growers about species selection and planting rates. 

In addition to being good for the land, adopting soil-friendly practices can also boost product marketability. This partnership to bring financial assistance to growers to more broadly adopt erosion prevention practices will boost sustainability and expand the public's positive perception of the hazelnut industry.

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