National Nut Grower National Nut Grower

Oct 21, 2022
Oregon hazelnut growers are feeling the crunch

Oregon’s hazelnut growers will receive approximately half the price for this year’s crop that they did for last year’s, according to Terry Ross, executive director of the Hazelnut Growers Bargaining Association.

Nearly 100% of hazelnuts grown in the United States are grown in Oregon. In 2019, 80% of Oregon’s filberts were exported to China.

But a trade war between the United States and China has hurt growers. In response to tariffs imposed by former President Donald Trump on Chinese imports, China has raised tariffs on items it imports from the U.S., including hazelnuts, for which the country now charges a 65% tariff.

And high inflation in Turkey, which produces 70% of the global supply of hazelnuts, has led to a lower-cost product overseas.

The war in Ukraine has also reduced demand for the nut. In March, the Italian food group Ferrero, producer of the hazelnut chocolate spread Nutella, suspended non-essential activities and development plans in Russia.

In an interview with OPB, Ross said that while these low prices means pain for Oregon growers in the near future, the low price of hazelnuts could improve the industry’s future outlook as more producers look to include now-cheaper hazelnuts in their product lines.

Oregon Business sat down with Terry Ross to discuss how Oregon hazelnut growers are faring during this price crisis, and what steps industry and government can take to help growers rebound.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

When you spoke to OPB, you said this hazelnut price drop is both a long-term and short-term problem, given Turkey’s increased production and the state of the Chinese market. What are you telling your members about what to expect over these couple of years?

The advice that I give growers is that this is definitely a painful situation, but I do believe the worst of it will be short-term, as in a few years.

As bad as it is here, I presume it’s worse in all the other production areas across the world. Oregon is the high quality, low cost producer, and when I say low cost, I don’t mean necessarily cheap. I mean, we can produce more pounds per acre than other production regions. We have better soils, an ideal climate, mechanization, and really high production base for growers. Other production areas are dealing with higher levels of inflation, but also potentially shortages of supply.

I’m telling our growers that it appears that over the next couple of years, the increase in production that we’ve seen out of that region, will probably fall off just due to unfortunate circumstances in their own economies.

They need to tighten their belts to maximize output while decreasing inputs, finding that equilibrium. That is the ultimate end game for a farmer right now, to get the best yield you can with the least amount of cost.

Why is the economic outlook for growers looking more difficult in Turkey?

When you look at what’s going on in Europe, with the natural gas lines being shut down. And the war in Ukraine, it leads us to presume that nitrogen fertilizers, which are made from natural gas, are going to be either too expensive or too short of supply to fertilize Turkey’s hazelnut crops to peak performance.

In a couple of years, the tonnage coming out of our competitors will probably start to fall, which will create a supply shortage. I would think that it should come in about three years or so.

You also mentioned how lower hazelnut prices over the next few years could be a good thing for growers in the long run. Why is that?

The U.S. candy producers are really keyed on almonds and peanuts in part because of the price. There’s a really a vast array of different candies and products we could get hazelnuts into, that we’re not currently in.

In Europe, there’s a lot of different candies and products that include hazelnuts. In the United States you have Nutella, and that’s more or less what people think of when it comes to value-added hazelnut products.

One of the big problems we’re dealing with, is that other tree nut crops are also large, and prices have also fallen. So it doesn’t necessarily give hazelnuts an huge competitive advantage against other nuts. But it is at a price where we believe it is now affordable enough to become competitive.

One thing that we also haven’t had is a reliable supply. Now we finally have enough acres coming into production that will give us a reliable supply of hazelnut kernels to develop the markets domestically.

China has been a huge buyer of Oregon hazelnuts and there are no indications tariffs against China will be removed any time soon. How can you be certain that will be a short-term problem?

Four years ago, 70% of all the hazelnuts we grew went to China. Now, that’s 13%. And it’s not just because China’s consumption has started to wane. We’ve planted different varieties of hazelnuts that are specifically produced for kernels, not for in-shell, which is the kind that mostly goes to China.

There’s a tremendous amount of new kernel variety production coming online. That will go into candies, confectioner’s breads, any number of different types of products to showcase.

Do you see any companies or anyone starting to become more interested in hazelnuts? And if not, how do you get people interested?

I can’t speak for any specific companies right now, but you could think of any number of candy bars that that have peanuts or any kind of tree nut in it is as perfect candidate for including hazelnuts.

The two things that we really needed to get companies interested was number one, we needed to have a reliable supply, which we didn’t until now, and we’ll have now moving forward, and then the price is attractive enough for people to experiment and try to include hazelnuts into products that they never had.

We always joke when we talk internally that all those other tree nuts are great, but hazelnuts make chocolate taste like chocolate.

You mentioned short-term problems impacting the market. What are the longer-term issues that growers are going to have to get used to?

Labor supply is short, and the cost of labor is going to increase once the state starts implementing overtime pay for farm laborers, which will dramatically increase cost of production.

So every input is increasing dramatically. The cost of farm labor is already double what it was seven years ago.

–  Sander Gusinow, Oregon Business

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