August 15, 2009
By Francesco Pacelli
Nursery technical analyst

If all goes according to plan, in the near future nursery growers could be producing hazelnut trees for the Ontario food industry.

Ferrero, based in Alba, Italy, is one of the largest confectionary manufacturing companies in the world. Three years ago, Ferrero opened a new manufacturing plant in Brantford. The 900,000 square foot plant has become one of the largest confectionary manufacturing facilities in North America.

Ferrero’s main products are hazelnut candies and hazelnut butter, such as Ferrero Rocher chocolates, Nutella and Kinder Surprise. It uses about 60 per cent of the world’s supply of hazelnuts. The Brantford plant uses approximately 6,000 tonnes of shelled hazelnuts annually, imported from Europe. The company estimates that next year, the amount of hazelnuts used will increase to 10,000 tonnes.

Based on the consumption of hazelnuts and rising import costs, Ferrero is very interested in growing hazelnuts in Ontario. In collaboration with the University of Guelph, Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, OMAFRA, Society of Ontario Nut Growers and Earthgen International, it started some trials to produce hazelnut trees in Southern Ontario. The University of Guelph has initiated trials to identify suitable hazelnut cultivars for Ontario. Some potential cultivars from Ontario sources have been already identified.

At the present time, there are two sites where hazelnuts are planted, Simcoe and Vineland Innovation Centre. Plans call for the use of micro-propagation techniques in order to rapidly produce the trees that will eventually be planted at farms. Earthgen International will be the company responsible for this project. At the Simcoe trials, Professor Adam Dale has several cultivars from Ontario sources. There are also sources from other countries, such as Italy’s Tonda Di Giffoni that was planted this spring by Professor Dale. Ferrero is interested in this cultivar, as it meets all of its standards.

This project represents the catalyst to develop a hazelnut industry in Ontario over the next 15 to 20 years, but also it represents an opportunity to the nurseries in Ontario to provide trees to the growers. A side benefit from the hazelnut project, is that the hazelnut shell can be used as a source of biofuel. Burning pellets has become an alternative choice of gasoline to heat the greenhouses.

So far, all the trees planted last year survived this past winter. Prof. Dale says that the problems now for those trees are the male catkins and the quality of the nuts. The flowers are produced very early in the spring, and as early as February in some cultivars. Here in Ontario, the trees can be killed by late winter and spring frosts. This problem, according to Prof. Adam is not as big problem a problem as he initially thought, because some native cultivars are already acclimatized Ontario-style weather. However, Ferrero needs a very good quality hazelnut for its final products. For this problem, it’s a matter of waiting until those cultivars planted last year and this year start to produce small quantities of nuts. According to Prof. Adam, we will need to wait another couple of years before the result is known.  

Caption: Hazelnut research could provide a niche market opportunity for Ontario growers.