Ferrero extends productions agreement for hazelnuts in Ontario

Ferrero Canada has signed a new three-year memorandum of understanding with the Ontario Hazelnut Association, doubling its original three-year agreement.

“We are deeply interested in Canada and we are renewing for another three years,” Jorge Acevedo, head of global agri-development and innovation for Ferrero, said Tuesday to applause from 200 farmers from Brant, Norfolk and surrounding counties and agricultural industry entrepreneurs.

Acevdeo was addressing the eighth annual Ontario Hazelnut Symposium held at the Best Western Brantford Hotel and Conference Centre.

The global chocolate and confectionary manufacturer wants to help develop hazelnut varieties that are suitable for southern Ontario’s climate and soil conditions so the company can have a reliable supply for its Brantford plant and “de-risk” its supply chain, Acevedo said.

Under the original agreement, full-time agronomist Barb Yates worked to develop the right hazelnut variety and gain the confidence of potential growers. Ferrero is satisfied with the work done so far and feels interest is growing among prospective hazelnut growers, said Acevedo.

“We have to wait for the right time and the right way to go ahead with an agreement,” he added.

Once that happens, Yates will move from full-time research to full-time manager.

“Ferrero feels very confident that the main objectives were achieved in developing a reliable source for hazelnuts to be grown in Ontario,” Acevedo said in an interview.

“And we would like to be proactive and responsible in working with farmers in Ontario. We want to give them full support. Although there are not may acres planted yet, I think we are on the right track for growth.”

The theme of this year’s symposium was the “Future of Hazelnuts in Ontario.” Along with a lineup of plant researchers and market analysts from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, attendees could hear about the experiences of six operations that conducted the first year of grower trials in their 10-acre orchards for a total 60 acres in various areas of southern Ontario.

Linda Grimo, who chairs the association’s board of directors, said she is amazed at the interest shown at the symposium. Less than 100 were expected to attend but more than 190 registered. And the association’s list of members grew to nearly 120 – up from 85 before the event. Last year, the association’s roster stood at 50, and in 2015 there were 25.  An increase in the number of sponsors – 23 this year — also demonstrated growing interest, said Grimo.

Along with Ferrero, the event sponsors included Ontario Centre of Excellence, Growing Forward 2 and the provincial and federal governments. Other sponsors included the County of Brant, GrimoNut Nursery, Evergreen and Liquid Plant Food Ltd.

“To see this many sponsors is amazing for us,” said Grimo, who runs GrimoNut Nursery, along with her husband, Ernie. “The fact that they are all along the value chain says they realize the hazelnut industry is really growing. The fact that all the sponsors want to be here tells us they believe they can contribute to growing this industry.”

Another major draw for the symposium was the availability of results from the grower trials, Grimo added.

“They planted 60 acres last summer under the worst drought conditions. We made sure they had irrigation systems. It’s only been one year, but they have an experience to relate and we can keep watching them. “That has influenced a lot of people to think about getting in. People now know who to go to ask information.” Martin Hodgson, the association’s vice-chairman and operator of Butternut Farms near Courtland, took the symposium through an overview of the state of hazelnut orchards.

Drawing from his experience growing hazelnuts since 1994, Hodgson noted that Ferrero wants to see 23,000 acres of orchards planted over the next seven years in southern Ontario to supply its Brantford plant. Right now, the plant imports 10,000 tonnes of shelled hazelnuts a year from Turkey for its production of Ferrero Rocher chocolates and Nutella. But that supply line is becoming less reliable, due to aging farmers leaving the industry with the next generation showing little or no interest in taking over, rudimentary technologies and a politically unstable environment.

Ferrero has expanded it Brantford production and intends to source products locally. The industry has to be able to grow a variety that is eastern filbert blight resistant (EFB). 

“We have proven we can grow here,” said Hodgson. “We have trees that are immune to EFB and winter-hardy varieties. The task is to convince growers to take a risk.”

Growers are being asked to risk a fair amount of venture capital. The trees cost $15 each, plus $1,000 an acre for drip irrigation. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” said Hodgson. Right now production in Turkey averages 1,100 pounds of hazelnuts per acre. Expected production volume in southern Ontario would be 2,000 pounds per acre. Anyone who plants now would have to wait a decade for a substantial crop.

source: Paris Star