Hazelnuts: A New Sustainable Crop for the Northeastern United States

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2009: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Northeast
State: New Jersey
Project Leader:
Dr. Thomas Molnar
Rutgers University

Annual Reports


  • Nuts: hazelnuts


  • Education and Training: demonstration
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Pest Management: prevention
  • Production Systems: general crop production

    Proposal abstract:

    Current Issue

    The need to enhance diversity and sustainability of small farms: Diversification is vital to the success and longevity of many small farms in the northeastern U.S. Sustainable and environmentally-friendly production practices are also increasingly important to the long-term success of these farms, especially those in the rural-urban interface where interaction with the public is frequent and is often highly desired. As such, the development of new high-value, low-input crops with potential to increase on-farm crop diversity and sustainability would be of great value to many small farms throughout the northeast. One such new crop worthy of exploring is hazelnuts.

    Hazelnuts as a component of diverse and sustainable agriculture: Over the past twelve years, intensive hazelnut research and genetic improvement at Rutgers University has lead to the development and identification of cold-hardy and disease-resistant hybrid hazelnut selections that show promise for commercial production in the northeast (Molnar et al., 2005a; Molnar et al, 2005b; Molnar, 2006; Molnar et al., 2007). These selections represent some of the first hazelnut plants well-adapted to this region that produce large, high-quality round nuts with thin-shells and a high kernel percentage (over 50% kernel to shell by weight). They are the products of advanced breeding efforts at Rutgers, in close cooperation with Oregon State University, the current world leader in hazelnut research and genetics (Mehlenbacher, 2005). The most superior selections identified at Rutgers now warrant systematic multi-location evaluation for their usefulness in low-input sustainable farming situations across different climates and soils. In addition, demonstration trials need to be established to better inform farmers and the public of the progress made in hazelnut breeding, and to display the potential of hazelnuts as a new sustainable, high-value crop for the northeastern U.S.

    The new Rutgers selections have shown few pest or disease problems and thus should require greatly reduced pesticide applications compared to most other tree and vegetable crops currently grown in the region. In addition, hazelnuts can be grown on sloping and rocky land not ideal for annual crops and once established require little to no supplemental irrigation. As such, hazelnuts appear to be an ideal candidate for low input, possibly organic, production (organic hazelnuts are currently not available from .S. producers). Hazelnut production in an organic system needs to be explored.

    Hazelnuts, some background: The European hazelnut, Corylus avellana, is the species grown for commercial nut production. There are two wild hazelnut species native to the northeastern U.S. (C. americana and C. cornuta); however, both produce tiny, thick-shelled nuts of little commercial value. The top hazelnut producing country in the world is Turkey, which produces 60-70 percent of the world’s crop (world total was 776,890 metric tonnes in 2007). Turkey is followed by Italy, which produces around 17 percent of the world’s total, and then the U.S., which produces less than five percent (FAOStat 2008). Currently, 99% of the U.S. hazelnut crop is produced in the Willamette Valley of Oregon (Mehlenbacher and Olsen, 1997).

    While European hazelnut production has been attempted in eastern North America since colonial times, there has been no commercial success in this region primarily due to a native disease called eastern filbert blight (EFB), which is incited by the fungus Anisogramma anomala (Fuller, 1908; Thompson et al., 1996). EFB causes severe stem cankering and subsequent death of European hazelnut plants in four to seven years after exposure to A. anomala. The disease is found closely associated with C. americana, whose wide native range includes much of the eastern half of the U.S. (Gleason and Cronquist, 1998). Corylus americana is very tolerant of EFB and subsequently acts as a reservoir of inoculum to infect highly susceptible European hazelnuts planted across its range.

    The establishment of hazelnut production in the Pacific Northwest, nearly 100 years ago, was largely possible due to being outside the native range of C. americana and its associated pathogen A. anomala. Unfortunately, this situation changed dramatically with the introduction of EFB in southwest Washington in the late 1960s (Davison and Davidson, 1973). EFB devastated hazelnut orchards in Washington before scientists developed a solid understanding of the pathogen, along with control measures, and plant breeders found genetic resistance to the disease (Johnson et al., 1996; Mehlenbacher and Thompson, 1991; Coyne et al., 1998; Lunde et al., 2000). While little is left of the hazelnut industry in Washington, commercial production continues in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, but not without expensive fungicide applications and disease management protocols. Fortunately, after nearly 30 years of breeding, EFB-resistant hazelnut cultivars are now available for use by Oregon growers (Mehlenbacher et al., 2007; Mehlenbacher et al., 2008). Unfortunately, these EFB-resistant cultivars are not well adapted or reliably productive in the harsher climate of the northeastern U.S. However, they are very useful as high quality EFB-resistant breeding parents. Accordingly, the rapid progress made at Rutgers towards the development of cold-hardy, EFB-resistant hazelnuts has been largely based on the successful breeding and research efforts developed at Oregon State University (Molnar et al., 2005a).

    Literature cited:
    Coyne, C. J., S. A. Mehlenbacher, and D. C. Smith. 1998. Sources of resistance to eastern filbert blight. J. Amer. Soc. Hort. Sci. 124:253-257.
    Davison, A.D. and R.M. Davidson, Jr. 1973. Apioporthe and Monchaetia canker reported in western Washington. Plant Disease Reporter 57:522-523.
    FAOStat. 2008. http://faostat.fao.org/site/567/default.aspx#ancor Accessed November 11, 2008
    Fuller, A.S. 1908. The filbert or hazelnut. p. 118-146. In: The Nut Culturist. Orange Judd Company, NY.
    Gleason, H. A. and A. Cronquist. 1998. Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. The New York Botanical Gardens. Bronx, NY
    Johnson, K.B., S.A. Mehlenbacher, J.K. Stone, and J.W. Pscheidt. 1996. Eastern filbert blight of European hazelnut: It’s becoming a manageable disease. Plant Disease 80:1308-1316.
    Lunde, C. F., S. A. Mehlenbacher, and D. C. Smith. 2000. Survey of hazelnut cultivars for response to eastern filbert blight inoculation. HortScience 35(4): 729-731.
    Mehlenbacher, S. A. and M. M. Thompson. 1991. Occurrence and inheritance of resistance to eastern filbert blight in ‘Gasaway’ hazelnut. HortScience 26:410-411.
    Mehlenbacher, S.A. and J. Olsen. 1997. The hazelnut industry in Oregon. Acta Horticulturae 445:337-345.
    Mehlenbacher, S.A. 2005. The hazelnut situation in Oregon. Acta Horticulturae 686:665-667.
    Mehlenbacher, S.A., A.N. Azarenko, and D.C. Smith. 2007. ‘Santiam’ hazelnut. HortScience 42:715-717.
    Mehlenbacher, S.A., D.C. Smith, and R.L. McCluskey. 2008. ‘Sacajawea’ hazelnut. HortScience 43:255-257.
    Molnar, T.J., J.C. Goffreda, and C.R. Funk. 2005a. Developing hazelnuts for the eastern United States. Acta Horticulturae 68:609-617.
    Molnar, T.J., S.N. Baxer, and J.C. Goffreda. 2005b. Accelerated screening of hazelnut seedlings for resistance to eastern filbert blight. HortScience 40:1667-1669.
    Molnar, T. J. 2006. Genetic resistance to eastern filbert blight in hazelnut (Corylus). Ph.D. Thesis. 113 pages. Department of Plant Biology and Pathology, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey.
    Molnar, T.J., S.A. Mehlenbacher, D.E. Zaurov, and J.C. Goffreda. 2007. Survey of hazelnut germplasm from Russia and Crimea for response to eastern filbert blight. HortScience 42:51-56.
    Thompson, M.M., H.B. Lagerstedt, and S.A. Mehlenbacher. 1996. Hazelnuts. p. 125-184. In: J. Janick and J.N. Moore (eds.). Fruit breeding. vol. 3. Nuts. Wiley, New York.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    To diversify and increase sustainability of small farms, new crops need to be explored and tested thoroughly: This proposal represents the first step towards developing hazelnut production as an option for diversified, sustainable small farms in the northeastern U.S. The funding of this proposal would assist in the establishment of relatively long-term hazelnut research and demonstration trials at three private working farms and a land grant institution, whose goals include the development and demonstration of hazelnuts as a sustainable commercial option in the northeastern U.S. Funding is requested to cover the propagation and establishment phase of this long-term research project, as described in more detail in the project timetable (part 4). In summary, 14 promising EFB-resistant hazelnut selections from the Rutgers breeding program, chosen based on their superior single plant performance in central NJ (complete EFB resistance and excellent plant health, large nut size and improved nut quality, and overall productivity) will be propagated asexually and established at four locations for systematic, replicated evaluation of their performance over the next seven years. While the two-year time line of this funding request will cover primarily the propagation and establishment of the hazelnut research trials (nut evaluation will begin in year three), the cooperators are personally committed to a longer evaluation period of the plant material (seven years), as well as providing access for demonstration and the timely dissemination of project results during the multi-year timeline. The overriding goal of this project is to identify the highest yielding, most reliable performing experimental selections and then propagate them for larger-scale testing and possible release for early-stage commercial production. The trials established by funding this proposal will also help to identify unforeseen pitfalls or challenges of hazelnut production in the northeast, before moving to the greater investment and risk of larger-scale production.

    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.