Hazelnuts have been grown commercially in New Zealand since the 1980s and are found from Waikato to Southland. With good management and careful planning at setup, commercial operations may be able to supply domestic demand and possibly export hazelnuts from New Zealand to global markets.
The commercial hazelnut industry in New Zealand is based on selections of Corylus avellana, a species of wind-pollinated shrubs or small trees native to temperate areas of Europe and Asia Minor. Most existing orchards are in Canterbury, Otago or Nelson.
Hazelnuts are one of the five most commonly traded nut crops worldwide, along with almonds, walnuts, pistachios and cashews. The average annual world production (2009–2013 FAO data) is approx. 830,000 tonnes (in-shell). World production of hazelnuts increased 7.7 percent in the ten years from 2003–2013 (FAO data), but the total hazelnut crop continues to fluctuate, affected by a strong biennial bearing pattern and the dominant influence of the Turkish crop.
Turkey is the largest global producer, with approximately 74 percent (range 64–78 percent) of world production. Italy is the second-largest producer (12–16 percent) followed by Spain, the United States, Georgia, and Azerbaijan (approximately 3 percent each).
The local New Zealand market for hazelnuts is small but increasing. Imports amount to 200–250 tonnes per annum. Most hazelnuts are imported from Turkey (80–90 percent) but quantities are increasing from the United States.
There are no accurate figures for local production, but it is estimated to be less than 100 tonnes per year. The trees on the 350–400 hectares already planted in New Zealand, once in full production, should be capable of producing 600–1200 tonnes per annum. This exceeds the current volume of hazelnut imports. New large-scale plantings would therefore need to plan to supply export markets. Potential export markets exist in Australia and Asia.
The global demand for exported hazelnuts is around 240,000 tonnes (2013). Globally, Europe is the largest market for hazelnuts, with Germany being the largest single European market at 28 percent, followed by Italy (15 percent), France (8.5 percent), Belgium (4.8 percent) and Canada/Switzerland (4.4 percent each). In recent years, Italy and Spain have become net importers of hazelnuts.
Apart from the sale of dry-roasted and raw hazelnuts ($30–$40/kg), hazelnuts can be processed into a variety of products including hazelnut meal ($40/kg), hazelnut oil ($75–$100/litre), hazelnut flour ($10–$20/kg), hazelnut spread/paste ($40–$60/kg) and roasted hazelnut butter ($50/kg), which can go on to be used in confectionery and other end uses.
New Zealand has several processors including The Hazelnut Company, which has a medium-sized processing plant in Canterbury, and Uncle Joe’s Nuts in Marlborough, through to smaller grower-processors who sell through farmers markets and small local retail outlets. Many also offer internet sales. Internet sales have seen small quantities of New Zealand hazelnuts exported to Australia, the United States and Europe. There are no large processors in the North lsland.
 Typical retail prices from New Zealand websites
The foundation for successful hazelnut growing is laid when the orchard is established. Landowners intending to grow hazelnuts commercially should use accurate and up-to-date information from local and national sources to guide them through the establishment phase. Information required includes:
- suitable varieties for the targeted market and orchard location
- suitable pollinisers for the variety selected
- suitable tree spacing for the selected varieties and local growing conditions
- shelter requirements
- suitable pasture species for the orchard floor
- irrigation requirements and regulations
- soil characteristics.
Hazels are deciduous trees and are planted over winter when dormant. Hazel roots grow through the winter whenever soil temperatures are above 4.5°C, so planting as early as possible enables the plants to develop a working root system before bud burst.
Established hazelnut orchards need to be managed with the aim of maximising the area of fruiting canopy and ensuring the orchard floor is maintained to enable efficient harvesting and high-quality nuts.
Different cultivars flower at different times in different locations, so the choice of crop trees, and particularly pollinisers, will depend on the location.
Hazelnut orchards depend on specific pollinisers to successfully pollinate each commercial variety. These pollinisers must have pollen that is compatible with the flowers of the commercial variety, and this pollen must be shed during the main flowering period each year. An ideal polliniser is one that sheds compatible pollen at, or immediately following, the peak of female flowering of the main crop cultivar.
Block layout is a personal choice. Most growers use a distance of 4.5 m between rows and 3 m between trees within the row. This gives approximately 600 trees per hectare when an allowance is made for headlands and shelterbelts.
Hazels are easily damaged by strong winds, so good shelter is essential. Shelterbelt design is an important part of planning a new orchard – the maximum block size will depend to a large degree on what shelter species are chosen. Most shelterbelts use fast-growing deciduous species that will grow to 15–30 m, such as poplars and alders. Be aware that some shelter species (such as poplars and willows) have vigorous root systems and will compete with crop plants for water.
Different varieties of each species have different growing habits and requirements, and some varieties may be susceptible to diseases under certain conditions. Local tree nurseries that have experience in shelter design should be able to recommend shelter species appropriate to conditions, to help determine the appropriate block size.
Currently there are no commercial harvesting contractors in New Zealand, so orchardists must either share harvesting equipment with other orchardists or invest in their own equipment.
Harvesting systems fall into three main types:
- Hand collection with small tools or small hand-propelled collectors.
- Vacuum systems:
- small two-stroke powered vacuum harvesters, either bac-pack type or mounted on a small trailer;
- medium-sized four-stroke powered vacuum harvesters that are towed or mounted on a smaller trailer;
- large vacuum harvesters that are self-propelled or power take-off (PTO), driven behind a tractor.
- Mechanical systems:
- medium-sized harvesters that are usually front mounted with side sweepers;
- large harvesters that are usually self-propelled and fitted with side sweepers;
- large harvesters that are either towed or self-propelled and that rely on separate sweeper machines to windrow the crop.
Keeping the ground under the trees clear of foliage is essential near harvest, to allow efficient collection of the nuts from the ground.
The handling of hazelnuts after harvest can be described as having two stages. In the first stage, the shell is cracked and the kernel separated. In the second stage, the kernel may undergo a variety of processes, namely: blanching, roasting, slicing, mincing, pulverising or being made into a paste.
The key influences on the economics of hazelnut production are yield, market price, and the scale of operations. Both high nut quality and high yields are necessary for profitable hazelnut growing and are achieved through:
- choice of suitable climate and soils
- choice of suitable varieties for the environment and markets
- appropriate planting system (suitable nursery stock, orchard layout and early training)
- good orchard management techniques (pruning, soil nutrient management, orchard floor management, irrigation).
The yields achieved in hazelnut orchards are variable. While orchards in Oregon expect to yield around 2.5 to 3 tonnes/ha, average yields in countries like Turkey, with less intensive orchard management, fall below 1.5 tonnes/ha.
Early production is an important factor in economically viable production. Hazels should have a small crop in the third year after planting, with the first commercial harvest in the fourth or fifth year. Growers should plan to harvest 1 tonne/ha by year six and 2.5 tonnes/ha by year ten. These yields have been achieved by New Zealand growers with good management in suitable environments.
Expenditure on infrastructure will be influenced by the expected value of the returns over subsequent years balanced with the budget available, and will depend on whether the farm’s existing assets can be used or modified for use.
Typical infrastructure may include: packing shed, implement shed, irrigation, shelter belts, fencing, mower, sprayer, harvesting and miscellaneous equipment.
The capital cost of harvesting equipment increases with the sophistication of the equipment, from hand-held devices available at $150 each to self-propelled machines in excess of $75,000.
Commercial hazelnuts require a mild temperate climate. The main hazelnut-growing areas in the northern hemisphere are characterised by mild summers and cool winters without extremes of heat or cold. Key temperature characteristics are:
- average annual temperature 12˚C to 16˚C
- maximum temperature 35 to 36˚C
- minimum temperature -8 to -10˚C
- winter chilling of 600 to 1200 hours (depending on variety).
No research is available for nitrogen leaching of a hazelnut orchard, however it is considered to be in the low range. Any land use change to a hazelnut orchard planned for the Lake Rotorua catchment would need to be modelled for nitrogen leaching.
Hazelnut trees have soft leaves and do not tolerate extreme heat, wind or moisture stress. In New Zealand conditions, good shelter is essential.
Ideal annual rainfall is 800–1200 mm, with rain evenly spread throughout the growing season. Locations with rainfall well distributed up until February may not require irrigation. Locations that experience prolonged periods of dry weather between November and the end of January should install irrigation, especially if the soils are free draining (sandy or stony). Water requirements are estimated at about 1–1.5 million litres of water per hectare per season for every 150 mm of annual rainfall less than 900 mm. Rotorua averages 1300 mm of rainfall per year.
Warm dry weather over the harvest period (late February to early April in most areas of New Zealand) is advantageous. Dry weather lets husks dry quickly so that nuts fall free, the moisture content of the harvested nuts is low, and dry ground conditions favour easy machinery operation and clean nuts.
Out-of-season frosts in November and December have caused hazelnut crop losses in parts of New Zealand. Temperatures recorded in orchards affected by frost damage in the South Island suggest that air temperatures of -2 to -3˚C may be sufficient to cause damage to nut clusters at this time. However, damage has been inconsistent, both within orchards and regions.
Pests and diseases
- Big bud mite reduces the amount of productive growth on the tree, and therefore reduces crop yields. Some cultivars are more susceptible than others and the effects may depend on the season or climate. Small infestations can be controlled by removing affected buds, or severe infestations can be controlled by spraying with sulphur.
- Hazel leaf miner causes premature defoliation of trees; no controls are known at present.
- Lemon tree borer causes branches to break and weakens vegetative growth. The borer usually only affects trees that are already performing poorly, and can be controlled by pruning out affected growth.
- Green shield beetle feeds on the nuts, causing distortion of the kernel and a bitter taste. The beetle can be controlled by insecticides and good orchard hygiene.
- Hares and rabbits: hares can severely damage young trees by nipping the tops off them around knee height. Rabbits can damage young trees by nipping off and eating the branches, and can damage older trees by gnawing at the bark (weakening the trunk and also leaving a wound where disease can enter).
- Possums and rats do not generally affect the trees but may steal nuts for their own winter food. Prompt harvesting will reduce the opportunity, as will a secure storage location (a sealed shed with no access points, a steel tank, or onion bags suspended from the ceiling).
- Bacterial blight mainly affects young trees while they are being established, and is especially problematic for trees that are already stressed (by wind, sun or lack of water). The blight causes dieback of leaves and shoots and can damage new growth buds so that they don’t develop properly (in which case the next season’s crop and growth are also affected). In extreme cases, the blight may weaken the tree so much that it dies. Bacterial blight is controlled using copper sprays in spring and autumn. The bacterium appears to thrive in moist conditions, so control requirements will vary from season to season and from location to location.
Costs of establishing a hazelnut orchard vary according to how much development work (shelter, irrigation, land preparation) is required, ranging from about $8500/ha (established shelter, no irrigation required), up to $25,000/ha starting with bare undeveloped land requiring significant modification.
Gross margins for well-managed hazelnut orchards in Australia, Oregon (USA) and Italy are commonly in the range $4000–7,000/ha. In New Zealand, assuming yields of 1 tonne/ha by year six and 2.5 tonnes per ha by year ten, and based on an average price of $3.50/kg for nuts in-shell, returns would be $3500/ha by year six and $8750/ha by year ten.
However, returns also depend on whether nuts are processed further. Adding value through further processing into flour, meal and oils in packaged products would likely increase returns.
NZ Hazelnut Growers Association of New Zealand
Guidelines for Growing Hazelnuts in New Zealand Fact Sheets, Hazelnuts Growers Association of New Zealand/Tree Crops Association of New Zealand (http://www.hazelnut-growers.org.nz/)
Nuts for Life website (http://www.nutsforlife.com.au)
Infoshare, Statistics New Zealand (http://www.stats.govt.nz)
FAOSTAT, United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data)