Both the federal and Ontario governments are betting on the future of the province’s fledgling hazelnut industry.
Last week, both levels of government announced support for the industry, which plans to have 25,000 acres of hazelnut trees in the province by 2027. Ontario Hazelnut Association project coordinator Andrew Nixon notes that the Ontario industry traces its roots back to 2008 when researchers at the Simcoe research station started working to identify suitable varieties for Ontario.
Today, there are about 500 acres of hazelnut trees in the province. Typically, growers plant one- to two-year-old trees with the first crop harvested when the trees reach age four. The trees hit top production at age eight to 10 with yields reaching 2,000 pounds per acre. Farm gate prices usually run in the neighbourhood of $1.50 per pound.
In this interview, Nixon says both federal and provincial support for the industry will play a key role in helping the industry reach its growth targets. The federal government plans to invest $492,052 through the Growing Forward 2 AgriInnovation Program. This money will be used to develop orchard management practices to enhance early development of hazelnut trees, develop strategies to mitigate drought stress in nursery trees, and establish production techniques to multiply hazelnut plants for commercial use.
The project is being conducted in partnership with the University of Guelph and Ferrero Canada, the third largest chocolate manufacturer in the world, and makers of Ferrero Roche candies and Nutella. A leading hazelnut processor, Ferrero is also a driving force behind establishing the Ontario hazelnut industry. Last week, the Ontario provincial government announced plans to invest $11 million in the company’s Brantford plant to boost productivity, create 80 new jobs and help retain an existing 1,000 Ferrero jobs across the province.
Part of the funding will help increase manufacturing capacity for hazelnut-based Nutella. Ontario Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs minister Jeff Leal told RealAgriculture that the investment makes a lot of sense for his government, allowing it to support job growth in the food processing sector and also helping create a value chain for a new industry for primary producers.
In 10 years, Nixon believes the emerging value chain will turn hazelnuts into a major commodity crop in Ontario.