Hazelnuts as Feed
Feedstock is a largely unexplored, yet promising, opportunity for hazelnuts. The high protein content in native hazelnuts already makes them an attractive wildlife and livestock feed. Through the Consortium’s breeding process, we hope to increase the amount of protein that can be grown per acre. In addition, the adoption of hazelnuts as a widely grown feedstock crop would increase overall crop diversity, which reduces producer risk and promotes more integrated, environmentally friendly production systems.
Other Agricultural and Environmental Benefits
One of the most exciting aspects of hybrid hazelnut production is their potential environmental benefits as an agricultural crop. Hazelnuts can thrive with minimal maintenance and a very low amount of input after establishment period. Hybrid hazelnuts can produce nuts on standard agriculture areas or on hilly, sloping, or marginal soil that generally can’t support most other crops.
Hazelnuts use less water and are more drought-tolerant when compared to annual crops. Massive root systems allow perennial plants to avoid short-term droughts that would adversely affect annual crops. Research in Nebraska has shown that hazelnuts can be a stable, high-yielding dry land crop. If irrigation is needed, drip or trickle irrigation can be used with hazelnuts to greatly increase the efficiency of water use, conserving this vital resource.
Hazelnuts sequester more carbon than annual crops. The extensive root systems of perennial crops help build and increase organic soil matter, sequestering more carbon from the atmosphere each year. Hazelnuts also have a much greater period of photosynthetic activity than annual crops. Because of the full leaf canopy present in hazelnuts from early spring to late fall (unlike annual crops), there is a much longer period for photosynthesis and subsequent fixation of carbon dioxide. With annual crops, canopy closure doesn’t happen until summer: bare soil does not photosynthesize and fix carbon dioxide.
Range 0.19 metric tons per 100 Trees 1" dbh* to 4.78 metric tons per 100 trees for 7.66" dbh* (108 hazelnuts trees per acre in Oregon) vs. annual crops that get 0.50 metric tons per acre.
Hazelnuts can help reduce, and even prevent, soil erosion. No yearly tillage is required, which means oxidation of soil organic matter is eliminated. And that lessens carbon emissions and helps build soil organic matter (a carbon sink).
Classified by the USDA and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) as a riparian buffer zone species, hazelnuts act as a natural biofilter that protects aquatic environments from excessive sedimentation, polluted surface runoff, and erosion. They also provide complete soil cover much longer than other annual crops. And the bush’s dormant vegetation and leaf litter prevent erosion from raindrop splash and wind in the winter months.
Large perennial root systems are active most of the year (below frost line), allowing little nitrogen leaching. Besides the environmental health benefits of greatly reduced nitrogen leaching, reduced nitrogen loss (better plant efficiency) means less use and waste of fossil fuels. This translates to reduced carbon emissions.
Hazelnuts can be grown sustainably on sloping land and on marginal soils not suitable to tillage. This method can lead to increased food and bioenergy production, without many of the associated risks of using this land for annual crop production. Improved harvesting machines will need to be developed (existing equipment might only need to be modified) for production to be most effective.