The NZ hazelnut industry. Where to from here?

By Murray Redpath

HGA newsletter October 2010.
Originally presented at HGANZ AGM, 2010

NZ hazel industry 2010:

NZ has over 430 hectares planted, most since 2000. Almost 100% of this area is planted in Whiteheart plus pollinisers so we have an industry dependent on successfully growing and marketing Whiteheart.

There has been a change in the orchard size since 2000 – from mainly orchards of 200-1000 trees to mainly orchards of over 1000 trees (see graphs below).
Fig. 1: Number of hazel trees per grower, SNGA hazelnut seminar 1996 (McNeil, 1996)
Percentage of attendees
60 50 40 30 20 10 0

<200 200-399 400-999 1000->2000 1999
Orchard tree number


The Hazelnut Company is the largest hazelnut processor with a large factory in Canterbury; owned by about 100 grower shareholders.

There are five or six smaller processors with varying levels of sophistication. All sell into the NZ market. One small processor has a small export market.

Lessons from the past:

The NZ hazelnut industry has been developing for at least 30 years. Early research indicated the possibility of economical yields.

Example: Yields from the Gum Block, DSIR Research Orchard, Appleby, Nelson for the “Barcelona”* variety (multi-stemmed bush planted 1953) averaged over the years 1970 to 1975 = 10.3 kg/tree/year.

At 400 trees/ha. (5×5 spacing) = over 4 tonnes/ha/year.

*Note: the tree tested as “Barcelona” was renamed “Appleby” after Prof. Maxine Thompson established that it was not the true Barcelona during a visit in 1981. It appears to be identical to the Spanish cultivar Negret.

Appleby was the main variety planted in the early orchards. Crops well, kernels blanch well.

What happened to these early hazel orchards? A typical example is one in Maraekakaho, Hawke’s Bay.

Planted in 1984 at a 4 x 2 metre spacing. Mostly Appleby, later plantings included Whiteheart, Barcelona, Ennis, and Butler. 1989 photos show excellent yields 5 years after planting. The owner used a local hazelnut cracker copied from an American design to crack and sell the crop, successfully tested the sorting of kernel from shell at local seed dressing facilities, and tried vacuum packing nuts at local meat processing facilities.

The property was sold in 1990 just as the trees were starting to crop well. The new owner had no interest in hazels and did nothing to the trees. By 2000 the trees were over 5 metres high, a “forest” with a dense canopy, and the trees were riddled with big bud mite and lemon tree borer. Often the main tree had died and been replaced by vigorous suckers.

The property sold again in 2000, the new owner was told that hazels were of no use and should be pulled out. A chance visit revealed that he was interested in cropping the hazels if they could be rehabilitated. The orchard was trimmed to about 1.5 metres high and 1.5 m wide. Further trimming of excess suckers and branches occurred over the following 2 years.

The trees put on over a metre of healthy growth in the first year and the orchard was back to having a vigorous productive canopy carrying a heavy crop in 2004 when……..
The orchard was sold again (to an absentee landowner).

When last visited it was being leased by an organic grower who was using the hazel orchard to run free range hens. At least the orchard is still there – most of the ones that I visited in the 1980’s were pulled out in the 1990’s.

It is difficult to grow an industry and sustain processing plants and supply to markets when orchards disappear just as they are starting to produce well. At present I am hearing rumours of some growers talking about pulling their trees out – are we going to see history repeat itself?

Why do we all grow Whiteheart?

Whiteheart was selected from a group of old varieties and seedling selections by Prof Maxine Thompson during her 1981 visit and became widely recommended after it performed well in the Lincoln hazelnut trial. It has been promoted because it is seen as offering a quality advantage (a round clean kernel that blanches 100%) over Turkish or Italian kernel varieties.

It does have some problems such as vigorous suckering, late flowering, being susceptible to big bud mite and bacterial blight, and it does not yield well in many orchards.

Research Projects

MAF Sustainable Farming Fund L08-088:

Helping growers to record flowering information and write a web-based guide to hazel varieties. Due for completion in July 2010.

MAF Sustainable Farming Fund L10-148:

A 3 year project building on the last project by collecting and analysing flowering and yield data from growers. The aim is to identify possible causes of poor performance in some orchards (pollination problems, location, frost damage, variety selection?).

Others – Agmardt?

An application may be made for funding from Agmardt for a literature search and analysis into the potential for hazel growing as an economical alternative land use in water or environmentally sensitive areas.

Lessons from the Jeff Olsen road trip.

Prof. Olsen considered that the growth rate and yields of many of the Whiteheart orchards in Canterbury were much lower than Oregon orchards of a similar age.
We visited an interesting 11 year old orchard on the down lands west of Oamaru. Planted mainly in seedlings, it had 2 rows of Whiteheart that were yielding very well on heavy soils with irregular irrigation. This orchard showed the necessity for shelter – the Whiteheart were in the lee of the slope and well sheltered. Trees on the windward slope were struggling.

Prof. Olsen felt that the orchards in Nelson and Marlborough were more similar in growth to Oregon hazel orchards. He commented that the climate had a similar feel to it.

Site selection:

Prof. Olsen felt that more consideration needs to be given to selecting the correct variety for each site. Whiteheart is a low vigour variety and should only be grown on the best sites. On more difficult sites, a vigorous variety should be considered where the vigour will compensate for the slower growth rates.
Some interesting statistics from Prof. Olsen’s presentations at the April meeting:
• About 75% of the Oregon crop is sold in the shell.

• About 60% of the crop is exported.

Southwest Pacific In-shell Export Totals (Tons) August 2009 report

• Australia = 11.02

• China = 631.06

• Hong Kong = 13820.22

• Vietnam = 4282.79

• New Zealand = 1.5

• Total Tons = 18776.59

• This represents 85% of the total US Exports, up from 71% in 2007.

Costs of establishment for Oregon orchards: the break even point, when returns cover annual cash costs, is year 7 at standard densities (6 metre by 6 metre) and year 4 for double density orchards.

All previous cash costs of establishment are paid back by year 11 in standard density and year 9 for double density.

South east injury”:

Prof. Olsen recognized the damage to young trees in some orchards (Shore’s; McCracken’s) as damage by bacterial blight (Xanthamonas). It is common in Oregon on varieties susceptible to blight. It is caused when blight bacteria enter through bark damaged by rapid thawing on the sunny side of the trunks after severe winter frosts. In Oregon this is on the southeast side of the plant. This is the reason why they recommend painting the trunks over the first year.

Grafting onto existing trees to establish new varieties.

Oregon State University has successfully grafted new varieties onto existing trees in the orchard. Both top working trees and grafting onto suckers worked, grafting onto suckers was more successful (grafts at ground level were more sheltered than those in the canopy).

For grafting onto suckers, the tree was chopped down during the summer before grafting and a few suckers allowed to grow. Scion wood was collected in winter. Grafting took place in summer using a standard whip and tongue graft. It was critical to have daytime temperatures consistently above 20° C and to have high light levels around the tree to be grafted.

New varieties:

By “new varieties” I am referring to varieties that are already in NZ (such as Ennis) as well as imported varieties and new selections. There is renewed interest in varieties other than Whiteheart. Lansing and Ennis, two varieties grown for the in-shell market, are two varieties that are being planted. They are known to crop heavily and give good quality nuts in some locations (eg Marlborough) but we need more information about their performance in all growing areas before recommending large plantings. In Australia, Ennis often had a lot of shriveled kernels (Baldwin, 2007) and my experience supports this.

New Zealand has a useful number of the main varieties used internationally (eg Barcelona, Ennis, Tonda Romana, and Tonda di Giffoni) and perhaps we should examine their performance in various growing areas.

I have imported several new varieties from the Oregon State University programme and these are now out of quarantine. The main commercial variety is Jefferson. This has large nuts similar in size to Barcelona nuts but with fewer nut defects. It is a smaller tree and very productive. Jefferson flowers late and Eta and Theta were selected to pollinate it. It is susceptible to bacterial blight (similar level to Barcelona) so it may not be suited to harsher sites where blight has been a problem in Whiteheart.

The other 4 varieties imported are late pollinisers that are compatible with Whiteheart. In Oregon, Epsilon, Zeta, and Eta all drop pollen about a week after Merveille de Bollwiller and Theta about 2 weeks after M. de Bollwiller. They all have nuts about the same size as Whiteheart with kernels suited to the kernel market. Epsilon does not blanch but the other 3 varieties all blanch well (80-90% pellicle removal). Epsilon was imported because it is very resistant to big bud mites and may be useful where BBM is a problem.

I have used Merveille de Bollwiller as a standard reference and graphed the expected pollen release times below using data from Oregon and Tim Medlicott’s orchard near Dunedin. Theta may be a useful replacement for Alexandra in Whiteheart orchards.

We now have a wide range of hazel selections that drop pollen over August. There are selections from old Canterbury plantings and my breeding programme that cover this period and have kernels that blanch well. These may be useful as future pollinisers but we have not yet tested them for compatibility with Whiteheart whereas we know that the imported varieties are compatible.

The NZ hazelnut industry: At a crossroads?

We now seem to have a crop that is approaching the size of the local NZ market and we know that we will exceed the present NZ market for hazelnuts if all planted trees yield to expectations.

Do we want to keep planting and growing our crop?

Can we expand the local market or should we be looking at exports?
If we export, where are our markets likely to be and what varieties do we need for those markets?