“Trees should be thought of like the tractor, the plow, and fertilizer – as tools to increase yields, profits and sustainability,” says Rob Johnson, Co-Owner of Terre Verde Homestead and Manager of the Green Legacy Programme for Wellington County.
“I don’t see corn or soybeans ever competing with the prices of chestnuts and hazelnuts. The income potential is there,” says Rob.
Hazelnuts & Chestnuts
“Hazelnuts, typically start producing nuts by year three with larger crops by year five,” says Rob.
“Yields of 1,500 to 2,000 pounds per acre are possible by year ten,” notes Todd Leuty, Agroforestry & Tree Nut Specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
“Chestnuts require eight to ten years to start yielding nuts and can produce over 2,000 pounds per acre,” Rob notes.
Rob feels that potential revenue in the range of $2 to $3 per pound in shell wholesale for hazelnuts is realistic. For chestnuts, $12 to $15 per pound retail for flour.
But can these prices be sustained? “Even if farmers jumped at these opportunities, and acreage of these crops increased, I still think these prices will hold,” says Rob.
“Farmers who decide to market chestnuts and hazelnuts to consumers directly, through farmers markets for example, could realize even higher price premiums. The fats & nutrition of nuts is far superior and consumers are recognizing this,” emphasizes Rob.
Adam Dale, retired college professor emeritus, and Dr. Toktam Taghavi in the Department of Plant Agriculture at the University of Guelph, have been conducting research on bringing hazelnut production to Ontario together with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) and the Ontario Hazelnut Association.
Adam is quoted as saying, “30,000 acres of hazelnuts is not unreal in Ontario. There is a market for anything we produce.” Source https://www.uoguelph.ca/oac/news/opportunity-grows-ontario-hazelnut-trees
“I suggest farmers interested in nut crops start cautiously with 5 to 10 acres so that they can really understand the physical labour requirements to manage orchards and their costs of production. Even at these acreages, farmers will be considering specialized equipment to manage the harvest, plus post-harvest handling and storage accommodations,” says Todd.
“Effective insect and pest management is important. For example, with hazelnuts, late season weevils, filbert worm, defoliation by Japanese beetle, and bacterial blight infection can be issues,” adds Todd.
Sea Buckthorn, Haskap, Aronia, Gojiberries, Currants and Elderberries are just a few of the super berries Rob feels farmers should be considering. “Like nut trees, they not only offer nutritional benefits, but medicinal, environmental and economic advantages,” says Rob.
At their home, the Johnson family enjoy frozen Sea Buckthorn berries in their smoothies. Rob notes they have extremely high levels of antioxidants, vitamin E and vitamin C as well as being loaded with omega 3,6,7 and 9. Beyond being a food source, they are also a popular ingredient in skin creams because of their vitamin E and omega 7 fatty acids. “I feel they offer great potential in Ontario,” says Rob.
Certain types of berry bushes can also work well on less desirable land notes Rob. “Haskap are a dark blue berry in the shape of drop, and these bushes can handle wet conditions.”
He adds that “Sea Buckthorn bushes are perfect for dry, sandy knolls that experience high winds. These bushes are nitrogen fixers. In their native habitat they are often found on wind swept dunes and survive almost anywhere.”
Wind Breaks Increase Yields
The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs estimate that windbreaks can increase crop yields up to 15 per cent. Source http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/field/news/croptalk/2016/ct-0916a7.htm
Rob agrees that yield increases of 10-20% are reasonable. “The key is a properly designed windbreak that slows the wind but doesn’t stop it,” he notes. “A thick three layer wind break of evergreens is not ideal because it drops the snow on the other side where the ground stays frozen longer in the spring – making it tough for farmers to access those areas.”
Rob suggests windbreaks should be approximately 50% porosity to optimize yield increases.
“A properly designed wind break allows the wind to go through it, and can spread snow out evenly on the other side. An even blanket of snow protects the soil from erosion and helps prevent winter kill of hay (alfalfa),” says Rob.
He suggests evergreens. “Because their roots are more vertical, they cause less issues with equipment and provide better wind abatement in the winter than hardwoods,” notes Rob.
Living Snow Fences for Safety
“Depending on location, they typically are planted 30-60 metres from roads, at a spacing of 2 metres between each tree in a single row,” says Rob. White or Norway spruce and Colorado spruce are usually considered due to their tolerance of winter road salt.
Municipalities may provide funding support for living snow fences.
On roads in Wellington County, living snow fences are subsidized through the Rural Water Quality Program. Areas of ‘snow concern’ noted by the County Roads Department receive an additional payment.
In these areas, the County Roads Department pays 100% of the tree and planting costs. As well, the landowner receives approximately $4,000 for each linear kilometer of Living Snow Fence for allowing it to be planted.
“If you ever drive in the north of our county, you’ve likely had more than one white knuckled driving experience in a snow squall,” says Rob. He knows the incentive package and more living snow fences are making a difference.
Interested Wellington County landowners should contact Jessica Trzoch 519-546-2228 for more information.
At the 2017 Guelph Organic Conference Rob discussed trees further in his workshop “Carbon Farming and the Ecosystems Approach Using Trees.”