Original post in Capital Press

COTTAGE GROVE, Ore. — The Oregon Organic Hazelnut Cooperative has doubled in size in its first year and now has 16 members.

Officers with the cooperative say there is potential to continue to grow.

“I would like to see the cooperative getting some of the big conventional growers that are considering transitioning over to being organic,” said Kirk Reinecke, president of the OOHC. “There’s a big demand from companies all over the U.S. who want to buy Oregon and Washington hazelnuts, specifically organic nuts. We just don’t have enough to supply them at this time.”

Linda Perrine, who was president of the cooperative in its first year in 2018, said the mission of the OOHC is to promote a healthy, organic hazelnut industry, provide education for growers, expand processing and marketing opportunities and encourage more growers to cultivate organic hazelnuts.

The efforts of the fledgling cooperative were recognized and honored last year when it was presented with the 2018 Award for Excellence in the Crop Category by the Oregon Organic Coalition.

Taylor Larson, vice president of the cooperative, said the co-op’s core membership is now working on developing a business plan, identifying and eliminating bottlenecks for organic hazelnuts, and growing the membership.

“We want to provide some value to the members,” he said. “There’s lots of potential to grow.”

The organic hazelnut harvest in Oregon last fall was about 150,000 pounds, according to Reinecke. That was less than 1% of the total harvest in the state.

Reinecke added that organic nuts can sell for $5 to $16 a pound for the kernels, depending on how they are marketed and whether they are flavored in some way such as roasted, smoked, salted or chocolate-covered.

Most of the organic growers market their own hazelnuts, selling at farmers’ markets, direct from their farms or online through their websites.

The price for conventional, in-shell hazelnuts last fall was in the low 60 cents-a-pound range.

“All of us want to market our own nuts,” Perrine said. “You get a better price that way. There’s way more demand for organic. More shoppers are switching to organic foods.”

The co-op members said the major problem the organic hazelnut industry is facing is the processing of the crop. There is less than a handful of certified organic processors that can wash, dry, size, shell, sort and pack the nuts. Those facilities primarily process conventional nuts so there’s extra effort and cost and not a lot of profit for them to certify and transition their facility to do a small volume of organic nuts.

“We’re completely reliant on a processing facility, but there’s not enough volume on the organic side to make it profitable for them,” Perrine said.

A larger membership would also allow the co-op to purchase products in volume at reduced prices for its members and would increase its chances at securing more grants for research projects.

The co-op has applied for a High Impact Opportunity Project grant from Business Oregon, a state agency that supports economic development.

“The idea is to develop some strategies, do some analysis of the industry, deal with the issues to make it more attractive to growers,” Larson said.

In addition to providing information about the strategies and the analysis, the co-op is working to attract members through its website, a summer tour of organic farms, having a presence at Nut Growers Society of Oregon meetings, word-of-mouth and stories in the media.

Joey Jaraczewski, the OOHC secretary, said the co-op believes there are numerous sub-10-acre hazelnut orchards in Oregon that are presently managed using organic standards, but the crop is being marketed as conventional. He said those are potential members.

“There’s a new frontier out there and we’re working to develop it,” he said.