Niche Nut Processing Project: Collaborating To Establish Nut Crop Production, Processing And Marketing In The North Central Region

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2012: $22,492.99
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:
Kurt Belser
Project Leader

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Nuts: chestnuts, hazelnuts, walnuts


  • Farm Business Management: marketing management, value added

    Proposal summary:

    Our prototype regional-scale nut production, processing, and value-adding system in Southeast Ohio will demonstrate a replicable model for a tree-to-table value chain focusing on high-nutrition, perennial crops that will benefit the region’s rural economy, ecological stewardship, and food security. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, America’s top nut producers are California, producing nearly 90% of tree nuts in America; Georgia, New Mexico and Texas, raising 75% of America’s pecan crop; and Oregon, our Hazelnut crop. Nearly 90% of forestland in our region is privately owned and less than 4% is under any sort of management plan. Without an economically viable alternative for rural landowners, many are selling their woodlots for timber, which increases erosion and stream sediment while threatening the endurance of the staple native nut crops and other forest perennials, watershed health, and crop landscape diversity. Our solution is to create a regional-scale nut processing prototype facility that will be replicable for other areas in the NCR-SARE states, and wherever nuts are a viable crop. This facility aims to pay prices that will create incentive for landowners to manage their nut producing woodlots and plant cultivars in their fields; which, in turn, will promote ecologically sound farming practices such as forest farming, alley-cropping and silvopasture. The nuts we will research are hickories, black walnuts, chestnuts and hazelnuts, which grow abundantly in the wild and/or are capable of being produced commercially in the North Central Region.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Nut production can become an economic asset to the region by establishing an appropriate model. We will produce out-of-shell shagbark/shellbark hickory nuts, chestnuts, hazelnuts and black walnuts, co-pack these products with Shagbark Seed and Mill Company to prototype flours and oils, and with Crumbs Bakery to prototype nut butters and baked goods. We will report on the economics of such collaborations and the success of product development between businesses.

    Currently, we are researching machinery that is universally applicable for the processing of hazelnuts, shagbark/shellbark hickory nuts, black walnuts, acorns and chestnuts. We are testing each
    machine's through-puts, operating costs, and percentage of loss individually, then assessing their position and use in a production line based upon their relationship to other machines and our end goals for the product.

    We will use the research about how these machines work individually, and in concert, to inform the economics of a regional scale nut processing facility. Knowing costs of goods sold, along with the
    market values in retail, wholesale, and bulk channels, will help us determine prices for raw product.

    Brandon Jaeger of Shagbark Seed and Mill Co., a partner in this grant, will be prototyping flours and oils to help our understanding of the economics and incentives for business-to-business collaborations,which we believe are essential in developing a regional-scale processing facility that sources, processes and markets regionally. We will determine the costs of goods sold in two scenarios: 1) commissioning a company to value-add and, 2) co-owning a machine and/or product.

    Given this cost, what are the market responses to products advertised as collaboratively processed in a local food system, how do these products compare to other market prices of similar products, who of the collaborators will sell the end product, and, given all the above, under what circumstances are these types of collaborations economically viable?

    While direct-marketing at the farmers markets, making a wholesale order, or copacking with another processor, we will survey customers and collaborators to help answer these questions and to further understand the ideal scale for a regional facility. We will measure the affect of the economic impact with established/new businesses and consumers. We also will report on new landowner involvement.

    By initiating growers and landowners into further cultivation of perennial forest products, we hope to be a driving force behind sustaining this staple food source.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.