One hundred years ago, George Dorris, a lawyer turned farmer, knelt in the soil between the soils of the McKenzie and Willamette rivers and planted five acres of hazelnut trees. Dorris’s trees were the first commercial hazelnut orchard in Oregon.
With that orchard, Dorris planted the state’s hazelnut industry. Over the years, he planted a dozen more orchards and established a hazelnut nursery that operated for 40 years and produced about 70,000 trees per year.
Today, about 650 Oregon families grow hazelnuts commercially on 28,000 acres throughout the Willamette Valley. It’s estimated that more than half of those trees came from Dorris nursery stock.
“There’s been a lot of progress in the industry, but what was done with hazelnuts at the Dorris Ranch formed the starting point for where we are today.”
And today, Oregon accounts for 99 percent of the hazelnuts grown in the United States and is the third largest producer of hazelnuts in the world, behind Turkey and Italy.
The state’s harvest of hazelnuts, which are also called filberts, averages more than $30 million in farm sales. Hazelnuts have found their way into a distinctively Oregon cuisine. Dipped in rich chocolate, crumbled over a fillet of wild Oregon salmon, or munched whole and washed down with an Oregon microbrew, hazelnuts add flavor, crunch and a nutritional boost to snacks and recipes.
Hazelnuts are easy to love, but they are not always easy to grow. In the 1970s hazelnut growers in southwestern Washington discovered a fungal disease had swept through their orchards like termites, forming cankers that were slowly taking over the branches, it was eastern filbert blight. Spores carrying the blight travel easily in the wind and quickly contaminated entire orchards. By 1986, the blight struck the north end of the Willamette Valley.
In order to get more Oregon hazelnuts on the world market, growers must first get trees into the ground, and propagating adequate numbers of trees in a short time can be a challenge. To date, Oregon raises 99% of the United State crop. Many of our hazelnuts get sent out of the U.S. to places like China.
It takes about 5-7 years for the new trees to begin dropping hazelnuts. It is a waiting game for awhile. But we think it is well worth the waiting game. To our surprise on our farm; three generations now working on the farm we take care of our families as if they are family members.
Sited: OSU Extension Services, By Amiee Brown