High Value Enterprises for Small Spaces:Accelerating Commercialization and Integration of Woody Florals and Hybrid Hazelnuts in Sustainable Systems

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2005: $149,997.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Project Coordinator:
Scott Josiah
Nebraska Forest Service
Troy Pabst
Nebraska Forest Service

Annual Reports


  • Nuts: hazelnuts


  • Crop Production: irrigation
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, networking, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, cooperatives, budgets/cost and returns
  • Production Systems: general crop production

    Proposal abstract:

    This ambitious, producer-driven and implemented project was established to accelerate the short and long term development of profitable and sustainable woody-based agricultural systems in the Midwest. It integrated two woody crops into small-to- medium farm enterprises- woody florals and hybrid hazelnuts. It strategically targeted key barriers that limit commercialization and built on establishing stronger producer links to promote large-scale adoption. Producers “owned” this project, and ensured that solutions were feasible, relevant, and permanently integrated into their enterprises encouraging rapid spread.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Objective #1
    Increased woody floral visibility and demonstrated profitability through 12 new on-farm demonstration plantings in 4 states:

    12 woody floral growers established commercial woody floral plantings under this project in 3 states: Nebraska, Iowa and North Dakota. Those participants are listed under the “Project Participants” heading. A total of 2,311 plants were distributed between the 12 growers. The project also provided financial support for drip irrigation systems and other establishment costs for these plantings. A grower steering committee, consisting of six of these participants was established early in the project and met quarterly to ensure that the project was grower/participant directed. Arrangements to establish plantings in a fourth state did not work out as planned, thus planned plantings for that state were relocated to the other states.

    Objective #2
    Develop a permanent network of 12 woody floral (WF) producer “agents” to promote specialty woody crops, and who are regarded as reliable local sources of information.

    This project had 12 producer “agents” which consisted of all the growers listed as “Project Participants”. Several of these agents were involved in presenting woody floral presentations and workshops as well and were involved in the formal development of Nebraska Woody Florals cooperative LLC (NWF), which processes, markets and promotes the growing of woody florals in the Midwest. The formation of NWF led to a dramatic expansion of member growers (to over 45) exceeding the initial goals of this project. All participant agents were active in their rural communities in promoting woody floral production as an alternative crop.

    Objective #3
    Significantly increase the number of woody floral growers as a result of project-supported direct landowner contacts and assistance by WF producer agents.

    We have had limited success recruiting new growers through the planned grower-to-landowner contact approach. Several factors have contributed to this: 1) some of the growers knew relatively few of their neighbors thus making recruiting difficult, or 2) those that had the means to grow or incorporate woody florals in their farming operations or acreages were not as interested as anticipated when the project was first proposed. A new strategy was developed mid- project by the steering committee, in collaboration with NWF that used a more traditional approach, such as seasonal field days and workshops as a means to promote woody floral production. This was much more successful and led to over 45 growers establishing woody floral on-farm enterprises.

    Objective #4
    Conduct joint processing, marketing and market/product development via a specialty woody crop cooperative leading to greater farm profitability, greater market options for producers, and stronger producer-consumer links.

    Six of the SARE producer did harvest their woody floral plants and marketed them through NWF this past year; the other growers plantings were not quite mature enough to be harvested. Over half of the participants joined the NWF cooperative or intend to join, indicating their long-term commitment to woody floral production, and the sustainable long – term impacts of this project. The cooperative, with 45 members, currently sells thousands of woody floral stems annually to wholesale florists located in Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and South Dakota. A major success and impact of this project was the development of Nebraska Woody Florals (NWF), which provides permanent capability in the central and Great Plains states for technical assistance, processing information and collective marketing of a wide range of woody floral products. During the project period, NWF LLC., identified entirely new markets, competed successfully in existing markets and provided an essential processing and marketing outlet to a growing number of woody floral producers across three states.

    Objective #5
    Enhance producer access (24/7) to woody floral information, hybrid hazelnut production, processing, marketing, price and financial return information via an improved web-based market information system.

    Currently the Nebraska Forest Service has an entire web page/Market Information System devoted to woody florals, one of the few such web pages. This web site includes woody florals with interesting color, shapes, buds, fruit, flowers and other marketable characteristics. The URL for this web site is www.nfs.unl.edu/documents/SpecialtyForest/growersguideweb2007. This site includes photos of woody floral plants, plant descriptions, growth requirements, propagation methods, harvest information, production information, labor requirements, establishment costs, fresh market information and potential problems. This site also gives those interested in woody florals contact information on the NWF (Nebraska Woody Florals) cooperative. The site is updated as new information becomes available. Information on hazelnut production and processing is still in its infancy, with too many unknowns at this point to make any recommendations. While progress on hybrid hazelnuts is accelerating, we are not ready to recommend or release any cultivars.

    Objective #6
    Increased farm profitability by using superior cultivars of both WFs and hazelnuts, and through more efficient processing procedures and equipment.

    Using project funds, participants planted a wide array of plants ranging from proven performers in our climate as well as many species that are “new” to the area. The following is a list of plants that were purchased for field trials with SARE funds:

    Flowering Almond, Bittersweet, ‘Black Knight’ Buddleia, Nanking Cherry, Coralberry, Snowberry Blood twig dogwood, Cardinal Dogwood, Red twig dogwood, Yellow twig dogwood, Black pussy willow, Pussy willow, Curly willow, ‘Scarlet Curls’ willow, StreamCo willow, Superba willow, Belgium Red willow, Hutchinsons Yellow willow, Select pussy willow, Black Maul willow, Vitelina willow, Chermesina willow, American willow, Yellow weeping willow, Giant pussy willow, Green Dicks willow, Flame willow, Fantail willow, Blue mist spirea, Candidissima Viburnum, Notcott Viburnum, Calvescens Viburnum, Nanny berry Viburnum, Wentworth Viburnum, Mariesii Viburnum, Winterhazel, Mt. Airy Fothergilla, Large Fothergilla, Arnold’s Witchhazel, Primavera Witchhazel, Pallida Witchhazel, Coral bark willow, Yellow flame willow, Yellow curly willow, Sweet birch, Winter Red Holly, Southern Gentleman Holly.

    The project also purchased a complete drip irrigation system for each participant to ensure good plant survival and growth. A strapping machine was also purchased to reduce labor and speed the bundling and strapping of harvested woody florals. It has been of great help to growers interested in improved processing efficiencies. Assistance was given to NWF in setting up a freezer study as a possible way to extend the period that dormant stems are available. More than 45 growers are now harvesting and selling woody floral stems, generating a new source of income as a well as augmenting there incomes in these economically tight times.

    The project coordinator also investigated various types of pecan processing equipment that showed promise for processing hybrid hazelnuts; visiting two nut processing manufactures in Oklahoma and Texas. As a result of this trip three types of pecan processing equipment were identified with applications for hazelnut processing. Separate funding, ($31,500) was secured for the purchase of a nut cracker, an aspirator and a deshucker, laying the foundation for improved nut processing efficiencies and profitability for Central states growers.

    Objective #7
    Successful hazelnut tissue culture leading to the capacity to mass produce superior disease-resistant, hybrid hazelnut seedlings at a low cost

    Working in conjunction with the National Arbor Day Foundation, an ambitious research project was started in the fall of 2002. The focus of this project was to screen a planting of 5,000 hazelnut plants for yield potential. This SARE grant this project kept this effort in place, generating valuable findings. Ten potential new cultivars have been identified and yield data from the top 100 producing plants is still being collected each fall, which has now been narrowed to 50 superior plants. We are currently working with Rutgers University to screen these plants for a devastating hazelnut disease called Eastern Filbert Blight (EFB) that would limit their commercialization. These top producers have also been tested for their oil content and oil physical and chemical characteristics in collaboration with scientists at the Biological Systems Engineering department at the University of Nebraska. Findings are exciting –several plants were discovered to consistently produce very high nut yields, others produce nearly twice as much oil per acre as do soybeans, and hazelnut oil has now been shown to be superior to soybean oil for biofuel (biodiesel) applications.

    Unfortunately propagation of hazelnuts has been difficult with very limited success. Tissue culture of those plants has not yet been attempted at this time due to lack of replication of the top performing plants as well as the number of plants that you are required to purchase from a tissue culture supplier (~ approximately 500 plants or more of each line) with each potential cultivar requiring its own tissue culture technique. Tissue culture attempts elsewhere have also been shown to be highly problematic and highly dependent on genotype. An alternative to tissue culture was instead developed in order to establish a replicated planting of the top producers on a small scale utilizing a modified mound layering technique by first chip budding the superior plant onto hazelnut rootstocks, after the chips had grown to a length of 8 – 12” the plants were layered and then harvested after 8 – 12 weeks. Unfortunately this technique has also had limited success. Mass production of superior hybrid hazelnuts remains an ongoing challenge.

    As a direct result of the continued collaborative work on hybrid hazelnuts supported by this project, a consortium composed of the Nebraska Forest Service, Rutgers University, Oregon State University and the Arbor Day Foundation was formed to commercialize the hybrid hazelnut within ten years. The consortium recently was awarded a $1.3 million Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) grant from the USDA-CSREES to support this effort.

    Objective #8
    Development of experience-based enterprise budgets for woody floral enterprises

    A major outreach publication that captured and summarized production, processing, marketing and sales expenses can be found within the text of the on-line growers guide located at the following URL
    . www.nfs.unl.edu/documents/SpecialtyForest/growersguideweb2007

    Objective #9
    An expanded and strengthened specialty woody crop community of interest region-wide through the use of both “high touch” and “high tech” approaches

    This combined high-touch and high-tech approach has been accomplished by providing each member with plant material and an irrigation system, hands-on harvesting and processing workshops, combined with improved web-based information on the various cultivars and markets for woody floral production. We were also in contact with the SARE participants through e-mail, meetings, workshops, and the steering committee. The establishment of NWF continues this communication; post project and strengthens this growing community of producers across the region in a sustained manner.

    Objective #10
    Increased production and marketing knowledge of producers, agency personnel, florists, and teachers of vocational agriculture, floral design and natural resources in Native American Tribal Colleges through 8 targeted workshops, 5 field days, 3 publications, and quarterly e-newsletter.

    To date eleven workshops have been conducted. During November 2005, 4 extension workshops were held on Woody Florals in Columbus, Lincoln, Fremont and Omaha Nebraska. Each of these workshops had between 15 – 20 attendees present. In September of 2006 a workshop was held on proper processing techniques of Woody Florals with 40 attendees present. The Project Coordinator delivered plant material to Fort Berthold Community College (a tribal college) in New Town, North Dakota, and provided hands-on training to tribal college participants while there. NWF manned a booth and conducted floral design presentation with woody florals at the 2006 - 08 Wild Fruit & Nut jam event, hosted by the Nebraska Forest Service, with approximately 2500 in attendance. Two field days were also conducted; the first in November of 2005 when a harvesting and processing workshop was held with 60 attendees, the second was conducted in April of 2006 when a planting workshop was held with 15- 20 in attendance. In July, 2007 a woody floral summer field day was held with 35 in attendance. NWF has published six newsletters and has emailed a monthly bulletin since August of 2008. One of the participants, Mr. Fritz Steinhoff utilized the SARE woody floral plant material as his Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter project. The floral design class at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln has also utilized more and more woody floral stems in class designs as a direct result of the SARE project and NWF.
    Publications developed as a result of this SARE grant are:

    Hygnstrom, S., Josiah, S.J., Skelton, P.D., Gilsdormf, J.A., Virchow, D.R., Brandle, J.A., Jayaprakash, A. K., Eskridge, K.M., and K.C. VerCauteren. 2009. White-tailed Deer Browsing and Rubbing Preference for Trees and Shrubs that Produce Non-timber Forest Products. 19:204-211

    Meyer, C.M., Josiah, S.J., Pabst, T., Erdkamp, B. 2007. A Grower’s Guide to Producing Woody Floral Stems. Nebraska Forest Service technical bulletin. NFS01-2007.

    Xu, Y.X., Hanna, M.A., Josiah, S.J. 2007. Hybrid hazelnut oil characteristics and its potential oleochemical application. J. Industrial Crops and Products. 26:69-76

    Grants secured in part due to work on this project:

    2009 Expansion of Hazelnut Production, Feedstock, and Biofuel Potential through Breeding for Disease Resistance and Climatic Adaption. USDA CSREES. $1,300,000

    2008 Nutritional Quality and Oxidative Stability of Oil Extracted from Hybrid Hazelnuts Grow in Nebraska. Ne Dept. of Ag. $25,000
    2008 Nutritional and Anti-nutritional Compositions of Defatted Nebraska Hybrid Hazelnut Meal. Ne Dept. of Ag. $25,000

    2007 Expansion of Rural Business Enterprise Development. HUD. $31,500.

    2007 Hazelnut Oil Potential as a Feedstock for Biofuel. Ne Dept. of Ag. $20,000

    Grant Proposals submitted but not funded:

    2007 Hazelnuts as Feedstock for Biodiesel and Green Chemicals. NCESR

    2006 Olechemicals from Hazelnut Oil. NCESR

    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.