Ontario Hazelnut Association Norfolk Farm tour highlights ongoing industry evolution
Updated: Jan 15
It’s a sign of Ontario’s evolving hazelnut times, that the Ontario Hazelnut Association (OHA) Norfolk County farm tour Saturday, September 10th focussed not on varietal selection or planting, but more on harvesting and processing, highlighted by a visit to Delhi-area aggregator Rebecca Compton’s processing facility.
“This was such a great place to stop and see the market potential of hazelnuts in Ontario,” said Alida Grohs, Administrative Coordinator, OHA. “As well, being able to see the processing equipment in action proves to all growers and potential growers the huge and amazing potential that this commodity has.
“There is currently a global shortage of hazelnuts, and we in Ontario have an excellent quality of food systems and good agricultural practices. This really puts us in a good place to take advantage of that need.”
The tour was panned and hosted to provide current and perspective hazelnut growers an opportunity to connect in person and access pertinent information on the crop while also getting an up-close-and-personal view of harvesting and processing equipment in action.
Around 55 people attended says Grohs, split roughly evening between current and potential growers. Interest was high among attendees for both educational presentations and demonstrations she continued, with feedback positive for both this and future events.
The day began at Martin Hodgson’s Courtland-area operation, featuring a research update from John Zandstra of The University of Guelph, an irrigation presentation from Rebecca Shortt of OMAFRA, and harvesting demonstrations courtesy of Hodgson.
“Lots of questions,” summed up Hodgson. “And just getting in their mind how this works.
“The only other place you can see this sort of stuff is in Oregon,” he added with a laugh. “And we’re a long ways from there.”
Hodgson demonstrated a variety of harvest methods, moving up in scale from the very basic hand-picking and nut rollers, to blowers which move nuts out from under trees into a windrow, and also the machinery which picks them up from there.
“I think a lot of information got to people,” he said of a ‘well-attended event.’
Participants then headed over to Dalton-White Farms just south of Delhi for a processing exhibition courtesy of Compton, against a backdrop of sponsor booths.
“It felt optimistic,” said Compton. “It’s still very small scale, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.”
“It’s kind of closing that circle in a small way, which we have to do and then hopefully we can make that circle bigger,” said Compton. “It’s not rocket science, but that circle has been open for the past decade.”
“That’s sort of dotting the ‘I’ and crossing the ’T’,” credited Hodgson.
Events concluded at the University of Guelph Research Station east of Simcoe with research updates from staff members Mukund Shukla, Murali Ayyananth and Asifa Munawar and an integrated pest management seminar from Melanie Filotas, of OMAFRA.
Sites and seminars were selected says Grohs, in order to give attendees a larger picture view featuring most aspects of hazelnut growing in Ontario.
“It gave current and start-up growers and potential growers ideas of the types of processing equipment and brands that are available for purchase,” she said, noting the OHA along with individual growers are becoming more involved in aggregation and processing, indicative of an evolving industry.
Jeff Korevaar from the Tillsonburg area was one of those considering growing hazelnuts in the future. He found all aspects of the day interesting, including the seminars, but was most taken with the hands-on demonstrations from ‘actual farmers.’
“As a new person looking to get into it, that’s extremely valuable. It tells you exactly what’s happening instead of just reading a book or seeing videos. “The whole thing was really cool.”
Grohs has experienced her own evolution, starting out as a Research Technician for the University of Guelph, researching hazelnuts. The industry has ‘evolved exponentially’ in her few years since joining the OHA, toward harvest, processing and now marketing hazelnuts.
“The OHA just underwent a market development project and the board has been connecting with an exploring opportunities with post-secondary institutions, as well as with purchases in both Ontario and other provinces.
“This will offer opportunity to both the OHA and other farmers.”
Many people are not award hazelnuts will even grow in this province says Grohs, let alone their market potential. Evens such as the Norfolk farm tour help spread that word, along with developing industry knowledge and fostering connections.
“The day overall was a huge success,” she summed up, noting attendees came from not only from Norfolk and the surrounding area, but as far away as Sarnia, the Niagara region and Belleville. “Everyone had a great reaction and we had a lot of positive feedback.”