I am the fourth generation to operate this family farm. I farm a total of 240 acres that includes crops of corn, soybeans, small grains, hay, cool season pasture, warm season pasture, and 7 acres of hardwood trees planted in 1986. Livestock include a 40 head sow herd all pasture farrowed, and a beef herd of 30 cows that have been in a rotational grazing system since 1988. Beginning in 1993 I put my gestation sows in a rotational grazing system with good results. In the spring of 1995 I planted 10 acres of native pasture with big blue stem, Indian grass, switch grass, and Illinois bundle flower.
I was assisted in this hazelnut project by Phil Rutter of Badgersett Research farm who developed the hybrid hazels and by Tom Frantzen a neighboring farmer who had planted these a year before I did. They both shared their knowledge and ideas of how I could design, plant, and proceed on this project.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
Although the hazelnut bush is native and well adapted to my local growing region of N.E. Iowa, the process of using hybrid hazels that had been propagated in a greenhouse presented some problems. The transfer of 3-4 month old, 12-18 inch, bushes from a greenhouse to actual field conditions, i.e. heat, wind, weed competition, predators, transplant shock, posed difficulties in establishment. My first planting was in the summer of 1994. the plants were taken directly from the greenhouse at Badgersett Research Farm to my farm and placed in a partly shaded location outside to acclimate to real outdoor conditions for 7-10 days before being planted in the field, hedgerow. They were then planted in a single row at 5 foot spacing for a total row length of around 700 feet that ran in an east to west direction. After planting there were mowed around one time and watered when needed.
In June 1995 I also planted more hazelnut bushes, 200 total. Some of the changes made in this planting is that the plants had already been acclimated from the greenhouse by the plant breeder, Phil Rutter. His process to prepare the plants is to move them from the greenhouse to a building that has a roof and walls made of mesh material that allows reduced sunlight and wind protection. A time period of a few weeks in there toughens the plant and better prepares the hazel bush for transplanting. The other problems of weed control, predators, wind, and moisture conservation were up to me to work on.
I used several ways to reduce these problems or a combination of them. For protection from predators and wind I used 2 foot tall Tubex tree shelters that are staked over the bush. They biodegrade in a few years, and are easy to use.
For weed control and moisture conservation I chose to use wood chips because they are available from a local pallet company, are long lasting, and don’t tie up nitrogen in the soil as it decomposes as compared to sawdust.
Another option on weed control that I used was tillage around the bush in a 4 foot diameter. I used a heavy scalping hoe to remove the sod and weeds from that area. I chose not to use herbicides because it went against my goals and because there was greater risk to the plant, and to myself. Using the hoe for tillage, I spent an average of four minutes on each plant, 2 times per year.
In the 1995 planting I used any single one of these treatments of a combination of them replicated down the row. After the growing season I made some simple observations about each treatment. I recorded the height (CM), base diameter (MM), number of nodes per plant, and an overall score on plant vigor.
In doing the evaluation I found significant height increases in the hazels that had Tubex tree shelters, as well as a significantly higher number of nodes, and a more vigorous looking plant, as compared to those without. The use of wood chips also had a benefit in these aspects, as well as conserving moisture, and providing good weed control. Bare ground weed control by the act of tillage had benefits to a lesser degree, but better than the control group that was planted and left without any of the above mentioned treatments.
In future planting I intend to use the wood chip treatment alone or in combination with Tubex tree shelters to get the desired results of a vigorous, well established hazelnut bush the first year it’s planted. I feel that a good first year growth may decrease the time it takes for the bush to produce its first nut crop by one year?
This grant gave me the time and means and insight I needed to better understand the basic methods needed to even begin a successful project like this. It showed me that there is a valid place on my farm and in all of agriculture for a perennial woody crop like hazelnuts. Not only will they provide me with an extra crop that I can sell but are a great conservation practice and excellent wildlife habitat. Producers who are interested in a project like this can get great in depth information from:
Badgersett Research Farm
Rt. 1 Box 141
Canton, MN 55922
I have been a cooperator with the Practical Farmers of Iowa for the past four years. I have an on farm field day every year in which I explain my current sustainable Ag practices. In the last two years over 80 people have attended and have seen and heard about this hazelnut project. In the coming years I will have more field days and be able to give more current information as it develops. Practical Farmers of Iowa hold an annual meeting each winter and this year I plan to show a poster detailing this project. The winter PFI newsletter will also show the results of the different planting treatments I described earlier.