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Contact: Naomi Inman
Tour includes stops to visit OSU Hazelnut Breeding program director Shawn Mehlenbacher, Wayne and Joann Chambers’ hazelnut orchard in Albany, Chapin Dehydrators, and Northwest Hazelnut processing plants; concludes with dinner at Filberts Farmhouse Kitchen.
HUBBARD, OR – At a key time in U.S.-China trade relations this spring, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) Assistant Deputy Administrator, William Bomersheim, paid a day-long visit to Oregon’s hazelnut industry. The packed tour and agenda included a dozen or more representatives from the Oregon Hazelnut Commission (OHC), Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA), Western U.S. Agricultural Trade Association (WUSATA), Hazelnut Growers Bargaining Association HGBA), Cascade Foods, and Willamette Hazelnuts among others.
Hosted by former state Sen. Larry George, CEO and owner of George Packing Company and Northwest Hazelnut Company, Bomersheim was invited to become formally acquainted with Oregon’s hazelnut industry and establish a long-term partnership with the USDA. To cap the day, Bomersheim gave an hour-long presentation to industry processors and leaders about FAS grants available for developing foreign markets in light of disruptions caused by U.S. trade disputes with China on agricultural exports. Additionally, he explained the management structure required for agricultural industries to secure grant dollars.
“I truly appreciate the hospitality afforded me,” said Bomersheim. “And I learned so much about the industry. Although a native of the Pacific Northwest, I never realized it is home to almost all our nation’s hazelnut production!”
“Those of us at USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service [FAS] are excited about our new partnership with the hazelnut industry and the potential for growth in hazelnut exports,” Bomersheim said in introducing himself to the group. “Your work with WUSATA through USDA’s Agricultural Trade Promotion Program (ATP) is just the first step. USDA also offers other international market development programs, as well as overseas trade missions and other marketing opportunities. In addition, we have a global network of staff covering more than 170 countries and working to identify and facilitate export opportunities for hazelnut producers and all of U.S. agriculture.”
George began by emphasizing the day’s objective. “What we want Bill [Bomersheim] to take back to D.C. is that we are a permanent crop and that the culture of our industry is to invest long-term — from the growers, to the staff at OSU, to the industry office,” said George, who organized the tour. “We want to build a relationship with the FAS, WUSATA, and other agricultural trade groups, of what it’s like to work with Oregon’s Hazelnut industry.”
“We’re also looking for Bill to tell us how our industry can build a permanent structure with USDA FAS and WUSATA to access the tools FAS has available for funding to develop foreign markets,” said George.
FIRST STOP: OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY HAZELNUT BREEDING PROGRAM, MEETING OSU RESEARCHERS AND OSU FOUNDATION STAFF.
The tour kicked off with a visit to OSU’s Hazelnut Breeding Program (Corvallis, OR) where Shawn Mehlenbacher, renowned professor of Hazelnut Breeding and Genetics at Oregon State University (OSU), along with his senior research assistant, Becky McCluskey, set out samples of hazelnut varieties resistant to Eastern Filbert Blight (EFB) and explained the historic impact of EFB on the industry.
“We have the largest acreage of any research project on this campus,” said Mehlenbacher, who has performed trials on EFB resistant varieties for more than 30 years. “The top jars you see on the shelf dates from a trial in the 1920s. This collaboration with the industry has been going on for many decades. The products we deliver have a direct impact on the industry.”
“If we can access programs FAS or WUSATA has for funding,” George explained to Bomersheim, “it frees up dollars we have here (in Oregon) for research here at OSU.”
“Our industry invests steadily in the OSU Foundation. Although we rank number 15 of commodities in the state, we’re close to being number one for investing in the OSU Foundation endowments for research,” said George, who helped establish the Oregon Hazelnut Research and Extension Fund (OHREF) at OSU Foundation, now reaching $400,000. “We’ve held that place for decades,” said George. “Hazelnuts set an example for other commodities to follow.”
Hazelnut commission chair and hazelnut grower, Garry Rodakowski, told Bomersheim how the commodity taxes itself to raise money for research. “Currently we tax ourselves $13/ton to the grower. This funds the research projects. This year we’re funding about $700k of research at OSU. This goes into new varieties for research into irrigation,” he said. “We’ve planted 50,000 acres in the last ten years. The growth began in 2009 when the whole industry turned around on Jefferson [variety] which is blight resistant.”
Mehlenbacher described the 17-year process involved between breeding a test variety to having a variety to release. “When you drove past the orchards coming in,” he explained to Bomersheim, “everything over here has a single dominance gene for resistance to EFB. The number of sources of genetic resistance is now more than 100. And we’re trying to find other sources of resistance and combine it with the yield and quality of these.”
Bomersheim asked about hazelnut research in Europe or Turkey. “We have a few cooperators around the world,” Mehlenbacher answered, “but our breeding program is bigger than all three other breeding programs combined. Cooperation? Yes. But the only other serious breeding is at Rutgers in New Jersey where there is no industry.”
In Mehlenbacher’s 32 years at OSU he’s planted 5,000 seedlings in the field per year, segregating for Gasaway gene and blight resistance. The Hazelnut Breeding program plants 100 trees per progeny in the field. In order to get a release, 8,000-10,000 seedlings are planted. “A lot of time and effort,” Mehlenbacher concludes, “yet, it’s very rewarding to see people latch on quickly to a new release.”
SECOND STOP: ALBANY, OREGON. WAYNE AND JOANN CHAMBERS ORCHARD, DISCUSSION OF LONG-TERM COOPERATION WITH OSU AND INDUSTRY RESEARCH PROGRAMS
The second stop on the tour continued at Wayne & Joann Chambers orchards in Albany, where Bomersheim saw first-hand Chambers’ close work with OSU researchers over the decades.
In navy blue coveralls, Wayne shared with industry leaders how he and Joann married in 1963, planted their first orchard in 1963, and had their first child a year later. He recalled the early years of working with Mehlenbacher in grafting trials of new Oregon hazelnut varieties. “Most of them were duds,” he laughed. He watches for traits such as blanchability, size, early harvesting and flavor.
Chambers’ farm can hold trees for years longer than OSU’s research plot capacity, which removes test trees after 10 years. For decades now, Chambers has worked with OSU hazelnut breeder Shawn Mehlenbacher. His orchard provides one of the final testing grounds in the life of new hazelnut varieties resistant to EFB. Chambers has tested about 150 different varieties in on-farm trials.
His favorite varieties these days are McDonald, Wepster and Polly O. He and Joann also work with Linn- Benton Culinary Arts program to provide them with 250 pounds of Piedmont hazelnuts for cooking and recipe innovation. He is also among the industry leaders who have stepped up to help endow Shawn Mehlenbacher’s chair at OSU and support the Hazelnut Breeding Program.
THIRD STOP: LUNCH IN SALEM WITH OREGON DEPT. OF AGRICULTURE DIRECTOR, ALEXIS TAYLOR
Over lunch at Bentley’s Grill in Oregon’s capitol, Alexis Taylor, director of Oregon Dept. of Agriculture and former cohort with Bomersheim at the USDA FAS in Washington, joined the entourage of 13 industry players to participate in a discussion around best practices for State Run Trade Groups (SRTGs) to cooperate with the USDA and gain access to funding and grants. Taylor described SRTGs as non-profit entities that represent the broader industry.
“We want to see that you are strategic in planning and execution and that you can show results,” Taylor encouraged the group.
“There is not one single structure in applying for the programs,” Bomersheim explained over lunch. “We are looking for industry applications that can demonstrate a clear and logical transparent process. We want to see that you can show the market research and a system to implement the research, plus a system in place to evaluate your efforts.”
Bomersheim pointed to a “results-oriented management” (ROM) approach to the distribution of funds and grants. “We don’t dictate the goals, but we want a report of the results and impact of your activity,” he said.
FOURTH STOP: TOUR OF CHAPIN DEHYDRATING STATION AND ORCHARD, GERVAIS.
In the fourth stop of the day, Bomersheim met with Austin Chapin and his father, Bruce Chapin, on the steps of their receiving station office. The Chapins’ business partner, Matt Schuster, explained in detail all that’s involved in harvesting and prepping hazelnuts for cleaning and drying. As they toured the facility, Bruce told his unique story of spending nine winter months in his basement designing equipment with popsicle sticks and balsa wood before working with a CAD designer to fabricate the state-of-the-art receiving station on Waconda Road in Gervais.
“We wash and dry hazelnuts for our own orchards,” Chapin explained to Bomersheim, “and about 50 different growers. During harvest season we wash and dry as much as five semi-loads or 120 tons in one day.” Chapin also demonstrated systems in place for wastewater recirculation and management.
Concluding the tour, Chapin took the group through his neighboring orchard, explaining factors that affect hazelnut harvest and quality and pointing out the winter pruning process on mature trees. Stepping inside one of their state-of-the-art dryers with cloud reporting technology, Austin also explained how the drying process is a key factor in the quality of Oregon hazelnuts and shared about recent implementations in traceability and inventory tracking technology.
FIFTH STOP: NORTHWEST HAZELNUT COMPANY PROCESSING TOUR AND HAZELNUT INDUSTRY BRIEFING WITH WILLIAM BOMERSHEIM.
In the final stop of the day, Bomersheim took a tour of Northwest Hazelnut Company’s processing and marketing headquarters. He then presented an hour-long discussion on the types of market development programs available to the Oregon hazelnut industry, both to individual packers and industry organizations.
Larry George, member of the Oregon Hazelnut Marketing Board, opened the mini-workshop to the group saying, “What we’re looking for Bill to tell us, is how the infrastructure would work with the industry office, WUSATA and the USDA FAS to apply USDA programs in our industry.”
“FAS is part of USDA,” Bomersheim introduced his mission to the group. “Through these programs we develop partnerships with industry associations in a longer-term way,” he encouraged. “We have an obligation from Congress to partner with a host of organizations, including agricultural trade associations, state regional trade groups, agricultural coops and small companies.”
He spent the next hour outlining how to use the Unified Export Strategy (UES) system, or portal (see: www.fas.usda.gov/programs), to create a good grants proposal and apply for all the programs at once such as the Agricultural Trade Promotion (ATP) program which the hazelnut industry recently applied for, winning $115,000 to help counteract effects of the retaliatory tariffs and trade barriers on hazelnuts.
“Our staff go to an industry meeting and we need to understand that there is a strategy, good procedures and processes in place; and that you have the capacity as an industry and as our partner to undertake whatever you’re going to do,” Bomersheim told the crowd while emphasizing, “…and, we demand results. We’re looking at it from an investors standpoint asking, ‘What have you done? What are the results?”
Bomersheim also explained the screening criteria for new applicants, by looking at the company’s or industry’s track record working with state regional trade groups such as WUSATA.
John Moreland, Global Connection Manager for WUSATA, helped wrap up the workshop describing the mechanisms and structure necessary to implement programs in compliance with FAS requests from Washington.
“WUSATA’s programs allow you as individual companies or as an industry organization to access funding some of these programs,” Moreland confirmed. “As an independent, non-profit trade association made up of the Department of Ag directors from 13 Western States, we helped introduce 621 small to medium U.S. Companies to 14,000 buyers in 2017.”
Gary Neuschwander, Trade Development Manager for ODA, chimed in near the close. “We know we have a better product and the rest of the world doesn’t know that yet. Some markets are asking, ‘Why not just buy a Turkish hazelnut?’ If you don’t have an answer for that we have a barrier,” he said.
As an example, he shared about hosting a group of food technologists from U.S. companies at the Food Innovation Center last September who didn’t know that hazelnuts were grown in the U.S. “I scrambled to give them a real paste and roasted hazelnut from Oregon,” he said. “They don’t know what a premium product we have.”
Before dismissing the group for a dinner hosted by George Packing Company and Northwest Hazelnut Company at Filbert’s Farmhouse Kitchen, George emphasized the bottom line of the day’s learnings. “We wanted area growers and the industry to think ahead. What is the strategy, using the tools we have today, to help us sell hazelnuts at a premium and put more dollars in growers’ pockets.”
“As an industry we can say: here’s some barriers we have as an industry; here’s some strategies we can implement; and, which programs best fit our objectives?” said George who concluded with optimism. “How do we put together a structure and tap into the opportunities? With the trade dispute of the last year we’ve realized that we have not been accessing all the tools and assets available to us to promote Oregon hazelnuts.”
Press Release: Hazelnut Industry Briefing with William Bomersheim, Assistant Deputy Administrator, Office of Trade Programs, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service on March 27, 2019
Attendees: Andy Anderson, Executive Director, WUSATA; Jason Carver, Analyst, USDA FAS; Larry George, President of George Packing and Northwest Hazelnut Companies; Tom Klevay, Willamette Hazelnut Company; John Moreland, Global Connection Manager, WUSATA; Meredith Nagely, Manager, Industry Office; Polly Owen, Manager, Oregon Hazelnuts Marketing Board; Greg Riches, General Manager, Cascade Foods; Garry Rodakowski, Chair, Oregon Hazelnut Commission; Terry Ross, President, Hazelnut Growers Bargaining Association; Alexis Taylor, Director, Oregon Department of Agriculture
About Northwest Hazelnut Company
Northwest Hazelnut Company (www.hazelnuts.com) with its sister company, George Packing Company (www.filberts.com), make up the largest processors and marketers of hazelnuts in North America. Northwest Hazelnut Company leads the way in new technologies, processes and training and manages marketing initiatives for both companies. Each year, the companies expand into new markets with new products and stand poised for the future growth of Oregon’s hazelnut industry.