Native Cover Cropping in Hazelnut Orchards

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2023: $29,613.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2024
Grant Recipient: University of Oregon
Region: Western
State: Oregon
Graduate Student:
Principal Investigator:
Lauren Hallett
University of Oregon

Information Products


  • Nuts: hazelnuts
  • Additional Plants: native plants


  • Crop Production: continuous cropping, cover crops, no-till, nutrient cycling, pollinator habitat
  • Education and Training: decision support system, demonstration, farmer to farmer, networking, on-farm/ranch research, technical assistance, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, feasibility study
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, drift/runoff buffers, habitat enhancement, soil stabilization
  • Pest Management: competition, field monitoring/scouting, mulches - living, mulching - vegetative, smother crops, weed ecology
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management
  • Soil Management: green manures, organic matter, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: community development, sustainability measures, values-based supply chains

    Proposal abstract:

    As U.S. nut industries expand, creative solutions are needed to develop and promote sustainable orchard management. Like other orchards in the West, Willamette Valley hazelnut orchards are typically managed with extensive herbicide, mowing, and ground scraping to maintain a bare-ground understory for mechanical nut harvest. These treatments lead to erosion, water contamination, and soil compaction. Cover cropping has been used to combat these issues in other systems, but is challenging to apply in hazelnuts as conventional cover crops interfere with harvest. My preliminary research indicates that native plants may be a viable cover crop alternative, as they suppress weeds and reduce erosion while also senescing before harvest. However, for native cover crops to be widely adopted, they must be economical and effective across different orchard ages. Here I develop and experimentally test native seed mixes tailored to be self-sustaining (to reduce labor and seed cost) and suited for different orchard ages. I will compare native cover crops to conventional practices, both for cost to implement, and benefit to the farmer and surrounding community. I will measure monetary, mechanical, and labor inputs towards cover crop maintenance, measure weed suppression by target cover, and multi-year viability in relation to mechanical treatment resistance. I will disseminate results and associated best practices through educational events, brochures, and an open-access website containing information and resources dedicated to helping farmers, professionals, and other researchers implement native cover crops in hazelnut orchards. This research will propel western orchard management toward a more economically and biologically sustainable future.

    Project objectives from proposal:


    • Research objective 1) Develop self-sustaining, economically feasible native seed mixes for two types of hazelnut orchards (entering production and max production) and evaluate their compatibility with orchard management goals. 
    • Research objective 2) Evaluate the economic impacts of both native cover cropping and conventional, bare-ground orchard management practices. Compare production expenses across both management regimes.
    • Educational objective 1) Familiarize hazelnut growers to native cover crops and empower them to use them effectively for their operational goals.
    • Educational objective 2) Outreach to additional hazelnut farmers to increase cover cropped orchards.

      • 2a) Pass out informational brochures at hazelnut-related events.
      • 2b) Create a web-based technical guide for cover cropping with native plants in hazelnut orchards.
    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.