Local grower adding hazelnuts to the mix

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Windsor Star/Mary Caton




Local grower Scott Deslippe is trading in his traditional cash crop assortment of corn, wheat and soybeans for something a little nuttier.

Deslippe and his wife, Katie, are in the process of converting most of their 50-acre Amherstburg farm to produce hazelnuts.

They started planting hazel trees this fall and by the time the last hole is dug, they’ll have 5,000 in the ground.

Deslippe says there’s one other grower past Chatham but “mine will be the biggest one in Canada.”

A magazine article about Ferraro Canada got Deslippe looking into hazelnuts a few years ago. The makers of Ferraro Rocher chocolates and Nutella spread purchase approximately 60 per cent of the global supply of hazelnuts.

The company built a state-of-the-art production plant in Brantford in 2006 and they’ve been looking to increase Ontario yields ever since.

Since 2008, the University of Guelph has been researching different varieties of hazelnuts and optimal growing locations.

“Essex and Chatham Kent are very promising locations for planting such orchards,” said Elliott Currie, a former Windsor resident and associate professor at the University of Guelph.

Currie specializes in small business management and interdisciplinary product development especially in the agri-food chain.

Deslippe’s farm will be part of a 10-year trial study done by the University of Guelph and Oregon State University.

Oregon accounts for 99 per cent of U.S. hazelnut production and the university is home to one of the field’s leading experts in Shawn Mehlenbacher.

As part of the trial, Deslippe will plant 1,250 trees featuring five new varieties of hazelnuts from Oregon State University.

Researchers will study each variety for productivity and resistance to disease.

It’s a long ramp up to harvest. The trees don’t start producing nuts for three to four years.

“It has been a long road but it’s a lot more exciting now that you can drive by and see trees in the ground,” said Deslippe who will also plant hay to get some return on his land over the next few years.

He’s also establishing a nursery so he can sell trees and will offer orchard management services to others interested in growing.

Currie anticipates “upwards of 20,000 acres are likely to be planted,” in Ontario in the coming years, resulting in more than 2,000 full-time jobs and additional revenues of more than $100 million to Ontario’s agricultural sector.

“Now’s the time to be putting trees in the ground,” Deslippe said.