Hazelnut farming is gaining popularity in Wisconsin. The hazelnut market has been expanding in recent years, and at a time when many farmers are facing difficult times, hazelnut cultivation might offer a reprieve.
Like many farmers, Wisconsin farmers are experiencing the impacts of corporate consolidation. A multi-year downturn in the U.S. agricultural economy, rising production costs and diminished crop yields due to extreme weather also has impacted the industry. Farmers also face uncertain global markets due to the trade war with China and Mexico and Canada. Those have affected land values, crop prices and decades-long trade relationships but opportunities still exist.
Mary Hovel is a dentist by day and hazelnut grower by night.
“It was just something when I bought this land. I didn’t know what I wanted to plant. I kind of went to a conference on hazelnuts and thought this is something I can plant,” said Hovel.
Mary is one of many growers for Brad Niemcek, founder of the American Hazelnut Company in Gays Mills, Wisconsin.
“I went to an outdoor event by the Kickapoo Woods Coop and I was walking around and there was a table talking about hazelnuts, soil retention and that sort of thing. So we bought a couple hundred bushes and we planted them,” said Niemcek.
In 2002 Brad started growing. In 2015 he started his own company because he was producing so much and getting recognition. It takes about six years for one of these trees to produce an abundant amount of nuts. They then go on to produce for more than 25 years.
Hazelnuts are a $58 billion industry. Most of the country’s nuts are grown in Oregon, not Wisconsin, with the majority shipped to China.
Mary and Brad think more people should try it as an alternative farming because the trees require less water, produce more carbon, reduce soil erosion and nitrogen pollution.
“They’re delicious. They’re healthy. They’re used in a lot of things. Look at Nutella,” said Mary. “More people should know and love them,” said Brad.
Hazelnut trees are profitable generating a gross income of between $3,000-$4,000 an acre per year.