Hazelnuts and the Sustainability of Ontario's Rural Communities

Posted on Thursday, July 30th, 2015

Written by Emma Drake, Communications Summer Intern

Rural communities are experiencing a drastic shift in their populations as more and more people choose to move to urban areas in search of employment. This shift presents significant challenges to the survival of those rural communities.

“Without jobs, communities are not viable,” explains Harry Cummings, professor in the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development at the University of Guelph (UofG). “Jobs and employment are at the core of community life, wherever they are.”

The low number of jobs in rural Ontario is due to a variety of factors, but the volatile state of Ontario’s economy over the past few years has had the most significant effect.

Al Lauzon, also a professor in the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development, explains that in the past the Ontario economy was highly dependent on the manufacturing industry to provide jobs for rural Ontarians but that manufacturing in Ontario has significantly decreased. A large part of this decrease is due to the most recent Ontario recession, which saw large automotive and food processing companies move across the border or offshore, taking jobs with them.

No exception to this was Huron County, an area of vast agricultural production, says Paul Nichol, manager of the Huron Business Development Corporation. The county lost a Nabisco plant and an E.D. Smith plant, food processing companies whose jobs made sense in a rural area. The loss of these companies, moving their facilities and their jobs out of Ontario, forced residents to look elsewhere for work, some moving outside of the county. “We lost major employers,” shares Paul.

Without jobs and people, rural communities face challenges of survival with decreasing tax dollars, income generation for local businesses and enrolment in local schools.

There are, however, large corporations who are still conducting business successfully in Ontario. One such company is Ferrero, a multi-national corporation that manufactures Nutella and Ferrero Rocher chocolates. With a corporate office in Toronto, and a processing plant in Brantford, Ferrero employs around 1,320 Ontarians.

Ettore Fontana, manager of the development of agricultural projects with Ferrero explains that the company has been very successful since its decision to operate in Canada. “We’ve experienced growth of around 300% in the Canadian division,” he shares.

Instead of looking to move out of Ontario, Ferrero is working to further its success by supporting hazelnut production in Ontario. “Establishing a hazelnut industry would enable us to decrease imports from around the world,” states Ettore.

Not only would the establishment of an Ontario hazelnut industry benefit Ferrero, it would also bring more employment into rural communities.  

The potential for job creation is tremendous. The current estimation is that an Ontario hazelnut industry could create 2,000 to 3,000 new permanent jobs with every 20,000 acres of hazelnut trees that are in production.

“Job creation due to the development of a hazelnut industry would not only occur at the farm level,” explains Elliott Currie, associate professor in the Department of Management at UofG, “but all throughout the value chain.” He adds jobs would also be created in transportation, aggregation, quality control and tourism.

Though these jobs would be spread across the province, the impact in smaller communities would be immense, providing social and economic benefits.

“For a small township, 100 new jobs might mean 15 more families in their community and more kids in schools,” shares Elliott. “Maybe that translates into one rural school that doesn’t have to be closed due to low enrolment.”

Economically, an increase in jobs provides an increase in income. This income is spent around the community, supporting more jobs in other areas such as retail. This additional income in the community is also put towards taxes, supporting improvement of public services and municipal infrastructure.

Local community leaders see hazelnuts as an opportunity. Many of the developing jobs that Paul has seen in his county have been from new generation food processors. Hazelnuts, as a differentiated crop, have great potential to grow with these new food processors and penetrate the ever-growing local and artisanal food production sectors, shares Paul. “Some of the best opportunities for rural communities are in these growing areas. I see tremendous opportunity,” he adds.

Though small, hazelnuts provide Ontario communities with volumes of hope and a shot at survival.

This article is the fourth in a series on Ontario hazelnuts. Funding for this article was provided by the W.S. (Stan) Young Memorial Communications Grant through the OAC Alumni Foundation.

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