Ontario Hazelnuts a Helpful Hand to the Environment
The establishment of an Ontario hazelnut industry would enhance the agricultural product offerings of Ontario, and also create many much-needed jobs in rural communities. But there are also environmental benefits that hazelnut production can offer Ontario.
Currently, Canada imports 16,000 tonnes of hazelnuts a year, says Elliott Currie, associate professor in the Department of Management at the University of Guelph. Many of these hazelnuts are heading for the Ferrero processing plant in Brantford, Ontario, and most of the hazelnuts come across the Atlantic Ocean from Turkey. By producing hazelnuts in Ontario, imports, transportation, and carbon dioxide emissions would be drastically decreased. Carbon dioxide (CO₂) is the primary greenhouse gas that is emitted through human activities, and having locally grown hazelnuts would make products like Nutella much more environmentally friendly.
Hazelnut trees, like all woody plants, capture carbon in the form of carbon dioxide (CO₂) from the atmosphere. This carbon is stored in the trunk and the roots of the tree long term, explains Adam Dale, college professor emeritus in the Department of Plant Agriculture. When producing traditional Ontario crops, like corn and soybeans, more carbon tends to be emitted than what is captured, and thus producing these crops adds carbon to the environment. Hazelnut trees, on the other hand, capture more carbon than they release during production, and orchards become carbon sinks. By capturing carbon dioxide, a heat trapping molecule, hazelnut orchards can help to combat global climate change.
Hazelnuts are a perennial crop, notes Adam, meaning they grow year after year, and as a perennial crop, hazelnut trees have vast root systems. This means they can collect water from deeper in the soil in times of drought. Though supplemental irrigation (watering) may be needed in the first few years while the tree is first establishing its root systems, very little irrigation is needed throughout the trees’ lengthy productive life. This helps to conserve water over time, making hazelnuts a more sustainable crop.
When hazelnuts are processed, the shells are removed from the nut and often end up as a waste product. However, hazelnut shells can absorb 30 to 40 percent of their weight in heavy metals, explains Elliott, and thus are proving their worth as an environmental cleaning agent. The shells can be used to help clean oil spills, tailing ponds, mines and tar sands. Another option is to use hazelnut shells as a biological way to filter water. One company, Sunmark Environmental, which is based out of Oregon, is doing just this. The company has developed a storm water filter made from biological materials, including hazelnuts shells, as an alternative to activated charcoal systems.
A hazelnut orchard requires very few inputs, like water, but there is more to the sustainability of this crop. Hazelnut trees can produce nuts for up to one hundred years. Other, more traditional orchard crops, such as apples, tend to only have productive lives of around 20 years. This means that hazelnuts, as an alternative to other orchard crops, disrupt the soil for planting less often. This helps to preserve soil dynamics and lessen the possibility of soil degradation. Adam says there are trees in the United Kingdom that are over 200 years old. “It’s a crop you plant now that will last for your great-great grandchildren,” he explains.
This article is the third 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.