For Peter Andres, torching what remained of his ravaged hazelnut trees was a last resort. Andres had been a prominent farmer in the B.C. hazelnut industry for more than two decades, but in 2011 a windblown spore called eastern filbert blight (EFB) struck his Agassiz orchard. At first, he chopped down infected trees. Within four years, the disease had become so pervasive that he burned the few survivors.
“It was 2008 when the first orchard in Chilliwack got hit, and I knew my farm was on the map for the next spread,” recalls Andres, former president of the BC Hazelnut Growers Association (BCHGA). “We spent $50,000 or more trying to cut down some of the [affected] trees on some of the farms, and we had some success slowing down the spread, but ultimately you can’t stop it.”
From 2006 through 2010, the B.C. hazelnut industry spanned 1,200 acres and produced more than a million pounds a year on average, according to the BCHGA. Easy-to-grow hazelnut trees were a favourite plant for hobby farmers, most of them in the Fraser Valley. But by 2015, EFB had wiped out the industry.
Now, thanks to the determination of farmers like Andres and some political will, B.C. hazelnuts are coming back. The 2018 harvest yielded 40,000 pounds, a number expected to grow exponentially in the next few years.