What variety to plant
If you've decided to invest in hazelnuts the next question is what variety to plant. Traditional varieties such as Barcelona, Ennis and Casina are susceptible to Eastern Filbert Blight and aren't worth considering in the Willamette Valley. After disease resistance, a variety's yield and marketability are the top two areas of focus.
OSU's breeding program has released 20 blight resistant varieties in the past ten years. Each new variety has to outperform previous releases in order to be made public. Thus, the newest varieties, while less tested, have data showing better characteristics than older, field-tested varieties such as Jefferson and Yamhill.
By some estimates there are 25,000-30,000 acres of Jefferson planted and 10,000 acres of Yamhill planted in the Willamette Valley.
Jefferson and Yamhill have been planted for nearly 15 years and have track records. Jefferson yields well but may have alternate bearing tendencies and has a later harvest date. Yamhill yields better than Jefferson but has a low growth habit requiring additional pruning. Neither variety has blanchable kernels.
Newer selections such as McDonald, Wepster and Polly O produce blanchable kernels. "Blanching" means that, when the kernel is roasted, the skin comes neatly off. The advantages of this are twofold:
(1) The kernel looks clean and white without the skin and
(2) The flavor of the kernel is enhanced. The brown skin or pelicle has a slightly bitter flavor. Without the skin the nut has a rich buttery flavor ideal for confection and nut butters.
The blanched kernel market is the most premium market for hazelnuts worldwide and is a natural fit for American grown products. Turkish blanched product receives a 15% premium over "natural" or unblanchable varieties. US packers and marketers are still developing this market but, if you have to make a decision on what to plant today, plant a kernel variety that blanches. In a future post I will go into more detail on how processors determine pricing.
Blanchable varieties with competitive yields are Polly O, McDonald, Wepster.
Dorris and Sacajawea also blanch but our nursery does not supply these varieties. Growers have been unhappy with Dorris' yields and Sacajawea has shown lower disease resistance than other varieties.