As Oregon continues to flex its muscles in the hazelnut industry, the need for promoting sustainable practices has accelerated. To strengthen an already-strong market share – Oregon leads production in the U.S. and is third in the world behind Turkey and Italy – positive promotion can make a difference in the reputation of the state’s hazelnuts in domestic and world markets as a high-quality, environmentally friendly and socially responsible commodity.
The industry-driven Oregon Hazelnut Sustainability Program emerged to take on the challenge. Initially, growers were asked to complete a workbook they considered overly cumbersome, time consuming and industry participation was minimal. In 2018, the Oregon Hazelnut Commission voted to revamp and rebrand the program. The mission to increase sustainable education about the industry remained, but the name was changed to the Oregon Hazelnut Stewardship Program. SureHarvest, a company that facilitates similar sustainability projects for the Almond Board of California and other specialty crops, came on board with funding from Oregon Department of Agriculture grant. So did the Oregon State University Extension Service and Agricultural Experiment Station: Nik Wiman, an associate professor and Extension orchard crop specialist at the North Willamette Research and Extension Center in Aurora, took the reins to help lead the initiative.
Wiman worked closely with former Extension agent Jeff Olsen, the Nut Growers Association and the Oregon Hazelnut Commission to revamp the assessment modules for growers. Assessments include pest, disease and weed management, nutrient management, soil conservation practices, environmental protections and the social aspects of hazelnut farming. He helped adapt the content to reflect changes in the industry and modified it to be appropriate for an online format. Wiman contributed new questions and focus areas for the program, as well as explanatory educational content.
In 2019, SureHarvest incorporated Oregon’s programming into its software platform and the Stewardship Pilot Program was launched. The goal was to represent 10,000 acres of Oregon hazelnuts, about one-eighth of the industry, targeting industry leaders. The pilot program provided enough data to run statistical analysis and vet questions with participants. Wiman acted as a Stewardship Pilot Program representative and set about promoting the program and recruiting growers to complete the assessments and become familiar with navigating the software.
The data gathered in 2019 and 2020 represented 12,000 acres of orchards and generated deep insights into grower practices and their potential effect on yield. The pilot was deemed successful and a new goal was set to reach all 83,000 acres of hazelnut orchards in the Willamette Valley and to have growers update their data annually. As time goes by, Wiman will use the stewardship data for Extension education and outreach.
The stewardship data also has an important role to play in the realm of regulation and marketing. In 2019, Oregon Solutions did an assessment at the request of the Eugene Water and Electric Board to determine if there was potential for a collaborative project in the Willamette Basin to encourage hazelnut grower practices to align with watershed stewardship goals. Ultimately, it was determined that the Hazelnut Stewardship Program and OSU Extension were already fulfilling most of those goals. Peer and industry validation indicates the quality and credibility of the stewardship program, which will help ensure a bright economic future for Oregon’s hazelnut industry.