Branching Out Hazelnuts as a Third Crop
While the majority of area crop farmers are looking at what they’ll plant for corn and soybeans in the coming months, Dustin Benes of Fairmont has his eye on hazelnuts.
“Growing perennials is good for erosion control,” said Benes, who is an ag specialist at Rural Advantage, a nonprofit focusing on the intersection of agriculture, the environment and rural communities.
Other uses of the plants include a living snow fence or wind break, riparian buffer, wildlife food source and nut production, resulting in products ranging from facial oil to filberts.
Hazelnuts and other perennials are an important part of Rural Advantage’s “third crop” initiative, which aims to add crops beyond soybeans and corn to the landscape as a way to reduce non-point source pollution loading from agricultural land.
Benes hopes to plant hazelnuts this spring, and presented information to other interested parties during a Third Crop Producer Meeting in Fairmont last month.
Two species of hazelnuts are native to Minnesota: American and beaked hazelnuts. Both are bushes. Commercial production relies on hybrids that involve the European hazelnut, which grows as a tree. The hybrid is more disease resistant and has a bigger nut and thinner shell than native plants.
Growers can get started in a variety of ways: seeds, mound layering or dormant bare-root or potted plants. A hazelnut plant cannot pollinate itself and must be planted near others for successful pollination from neighboring “catkins,” the male portion of the plant that develops in fall, stays on the plant through winter and elongates and sheds pollen in spring.
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