Hazelnut Harvest at Hathaway Farms

September 25, 2014 · 9 comments

Oregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward Spark

Mid-September marks the start of hazelnut harvest season in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Turkish farmers grow a large majority of the world’s hazelnut crop, but Oregon hazelnut growers produce five to seven percent of the world total, making this area a significant player on an international scale. Because of some losses from freezing temperatures in Turkey among other factors, the price of hazelnuts is at a record high this year, and the yield for many Oregon hazelnut farmers looks promising. If you drive through the Willamette Valley, you’ll notice a number of fledgling hazelnut orchards planted in the last few years by farmers meeting an increasing demand for US-grown hazelnuts.

Ron Hathaway’s father planted his first hazelnut orchard on Kiger Island in Corvallis, Oregon over fifty years ago, and the operation has been expanding ever since. Now Ron and his son Mike manage several orchards spread across Kiger Island¬†including that first one that’s still in production. In addition to farming hazelnuts, Ron and Mike also grow grass seed and other seed crops (including clary sage seen in this archived post).¬†The Hathaways have planted several different varieties of hazelnuts including ‘Ennis’ (see in the photo above), ‘Jefferson’, ‘Barcelona’, and ‘Yamhill’.

Oregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward Spark

Over the summer, hazelnut orchards are groomed and raked several times to make sure the soil is completely flat so that the nuts can be swept and harvested efficiently and completely. Growers also clear out dead branches and other debris that has collected on the orchard floor.

Hazelnut trees naturally drop their nuts in September or early October (depending on the variety). Ron and Mike Hathaway harvest each of their orchards at least twice so that all the nuts get collected but none remain on the ground for too long, potentially getting wet and dirty.

Oregon hazelnuts // Wayward Spark

Each nut is encased in a husk that will eventually release the nut as it dries out.

Oregon hazelnut orchard // Wayward Spark

The trees in this orchard are about 12 years old.

20140923-DSC_076120140923-DSC_0802Oregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward Spark

Several different pieces of equipment are used during hazelnut harvest: a sweeper, a harvester, a tractor, and a forklift. The sweeper and harvester are specially designed machines manufactured in California that are used exclusively for harvesting hazelnuts. In the past, hazelnut growers have experimented with using almond harvesting equipment, but they’ve found machines designed for almonds are not effective for harvesting hazelnuts.

Oregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward Spark

First the sweeper (driven by Mike Hathaway) makes two passes down each aisle, blowing all the fallen nuts, husks, leaves, and debris into a windrow in the center of the aisle.

Oregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward Spark

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Oregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward SparkOregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward SparkOregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward SparkOregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward SparkOregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward Spark

Next, Ron Hathaway brings in the harvester pulled by a tractor. The harvester sweeps up everything in the windrow, and then fans blow the debris out, ejecting it from the machine before the nuts move up a conveyor belt into a hopper. Each step in the process is extraordinary dusty.

Oregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward SparkOregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward SparkOregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward SparkOregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward SparkOregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward SparkOregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward Spark

Oregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward SparkOregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward Spark

When the hopper is full, Mike brings over a wooden bin on the forklift. There’s a lever on the back of the hopper that, when pressed by a bin, will activate a conveyor belt that empties out the hopper into the tote.

Oregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward SparkOregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward SparkOregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward Spark

At this point, the nuts are fairly clean, but some husks and leaves remain mixed in.

Oregon hazelnut harvest // Wayward Spark

Ron and Mike together can harvest about 10 acres of hazelnuts per day. They prefer not to work in the orchards when it’s raining hard, but a little drizzle is actually nice for suppressing the dust. If the nuts get too muddy, however, it can be difficult for the processor to clean them sufficiently.

Mike will haul each semi-load of hazelnuts to a buyer in Independence where they’ll be washed, dried, and shipped all over the world.

Thanks so much to Ron and Mike Hathaway for allowing me to photograph their harvesting process!

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Kim September 26, 2014 at 3:35 pm

Fascinating. I love these posts. Thanks for your time!

(I also love your posts featuring local, edible plants. My younger daughter and I have been foraging for elderberries and sumac this week, inspired at least partially by your blog. Fun times together!)

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Jane September 29, 2014 at 9:56 am

Ditto! So informative and the photography is great! Well done. :)

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C athy October 1, 2014 at 5:48 am

Great post & photos! As a kid, growing up in the north Willamette Valley, every Fall we harvested both hazelnuts and walnuts by hand. We would love a Fall like this one, warm & dry. The wet & cold ones were miserable.

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Heath Keirstead October 3, 2014 at 10:18 am

Thank you for your beautiful photos and stories of life and the natural world in Benton County and beyond. BSWCD staff are inspired by what you share.

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maria moreno January 17, 2015 at 1:40 pm

What is your address please and do you sell hazel nuts pls email me

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Erica / Northwest Edible Life January 23, 2015 at 11:52 am

This was awesome! Thank you so much for documenting the process, I learned a ton.

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Shawn Mehlenbacher March 5, 2015 at 8:05 am

Great collection of photos! Thanks for sharing. When I receive questions about hazelnut harvest, I will direct people to your site.

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Camille March 5, 2015 at 9:09 am

Thanks, Shawn. That means a lot coming from you!

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Tom Woleslagle November 15, 2015 at 9:45 am

Where can I buy the harvested hazel nuts? Looking for about 5 pounds.

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