CLAIMERS AND DISCLAIMERS
While production of the first edition of this handbook has been supported by various universities and government agencies, none of them is responsible for its content, nor are they able to vouch for the veracity of the research findings herein. At the time of publication of this first edition, Badgersett Research Corporation is the only existing provider of the type of hybrid bush hazelnut plants being discussed here, and is the only entity that has completed long term research on them. We hope and intend that many other people, companies, institutions, and agencies will become involved as the industry grows, and other providers of appropriate bush hazelnuts will develop in the near future. But at the moment, we're it.
Nuts from the same bush are identical twins in appearance: each different shape and color means a different bush- and a different nut, in taste, chemical make-up, etc.
Why Hybrid Hazelnuts?
Before delving into the hows of growing them, it may be well to take a moment to examine the whys.
No one associated with farming at the present time doubts that our farms, farmers, and farming systems are in trouble. Any serious analysis of farming problems would be both lengthy and eventually controversial- here we will try to stick to just a few points that are generally well accepted.
In the USA, where so many farmers grow corn and/or soybeans, the profitability of those crops (for farmers) in recent years has become increasingly elusive. Production is so high, both in the USA and abroad, that prices paid to farmers are painfully low, often, in fact, below the cost of production. Farmers go out of business, die early from stress, governments wrangle about subsidies, children leave the land, and in the next growing season, the drama is repeated. Companies that process crops continue, every year, to be quite profitable- cheap grain doesn't hurt them a bit.
Why do farmers plant corn and beans again and again when they continue to lose money? Primarily because they have no alternatives- they know how to grow corn and beans, own the equipment, and have no crop they could sensibly switch to. "Alternative crops" that have been offered to them have ranged from outright cons like "Jerusalem artichokes" to the merely ill-conceived, like emu ranching. Somewhere in the middle are alternatives like grain amaranth, which can be grown, but has yet to find any real market.
Mere lack of profitability is far from the only problem, however. One "carrot" dangled in front of the farmer is the development of new uses, and markets, for corn and beans- for example ethanol fuel from corn, or "bio-diesel" from soybeans. The idea being that if there are more buyers looking for the crop, maybe the price will go up. Here we run directly into a much greater problem, however, the environmental havoc wrought by both corn and beans.
This now becomes a deeply emotional discussion, where tempers and rhetoric often flare high. Farmers, in general, are unquestionably good people. They have grown up on the land, and have a deep attachment to it; most want to consider themselves good stewards. All too often, they may feel themselves backed into a corner on this subject- yes, they want to take the best care of the land that they can; but what else, really, can they do? Farming IS corn and beans; the world will starve without them; to grow them efficiently takes fertilizer, chemicals, and plows; there is no real alternative; people who think otherwise just don't understand the realities. So the argument runs.
The "people who think otherwise" point out the extensive and irreversible erosion of the soil, contamination of aquifers, loss of wildlife and habitat as more and more land is irreversibly converted to row crops. And new horrors like the "dead spot" in the Gulf of Mexico, considered by most experts (those who don't work for fertilizer companies, at least) to be clearly caused by nitrogen fertilizer escaped from the Midwest and carried off by the Mississippi. Farmers know about all this; they don't like it either. Many use "conservation tillage" designed to reduce erosion and runoff, and generally practice the safest kind of farming they can; but it still comes down to corn and beans. And the plow. The conclusion is inescapable, in fact; if we must grow corn and beans to eat, we will have soil erosion no matter what; and chemicals in the water, no matter what.
But that's just a Fact of Life, isn't it? If you're going to feed people, you must farm; if you farm, that means plowing. There is no "real world" alternative, is there? (I'm going to ignore, for the moment, the fact that ethanol and biodiesel have nothing to do with feeding the world.)
So, back to the question we started with. Why hazelnuts?
Imagine for a moment what the environmental benefits would be if we could grow our food, "food", as in corn, beans, rice, wheat, etc., without plowing.
"Perennial crops" have been a perennial fantasy, even extending to corn. When corn's wild grass relative Zea diploperennis was discovered a decade ago, plenty of mainstream agronomists began to fantasize, and work on, "perennial corn"- a dream which has proven very difficult to realize. Seen any perennial corn fields recently?
It is not the purpose of this manual to discuss the entire concept of "woody agriculture"; for that please go to the Badgersett Research Corporation website, badgersett.com, and seek out the several technical and theoretical papers there.
The new hybrid hazelnut crop is in fact well beyond theorizing; the purpose of this handbook is to explain to interested farmers how to get started growing them: a crop that has been designed from the very outset to address the problems listed above. Once established, no plowing or even cultivation is necessary. No water runs off the fields because infiltration rates are dramatically improved, regardless of soil type. Tiling should not be necessary in moderately wet soils. No fertilizer escapes into groundwater, because the crop has extensive permanent root systems, at work 365 days a year. No soil is lost to wind or rain; in fact this crop builds soil. Wildlife finds cover and food all year, instead of naked soil for 8 months, and one kind of plant for 4. In the near future, harvest will be entirely mechanized. And economically, hazelnuts have a large, unsatisfied, existing world market; and processing potential even greater than soybeans. Literally.
Specifically, why hybrid hazelnuts?
The traditional hazelnut crop is based on orchard trees, in a system basically little changed from a thousand years ago. The hybrids now being developed are bushes; ie. far more amenable to machining, far less work to maintain, and intrinsically more productive. In addition, they are crosses among several species of hazel; made with the specific purpose of increasing useful genetic variations in the offspring, which is indeed happening at a remarkable rate. Our genetically savvy readers will understand that "species hybrids" are not at all the same thing as "hybrid" corn- these are very different processes, which unfortunately share the same name.
Not only is the basic productivity of the plants already greater than traditional hazels, but additional crop possibilities continue to appear- new flavors not found in any wild hazel, for example, and bushes that bear their nuts not in clusters of 5 or 6, but in clusters of more than 20. And bushes that have useful crops in 3 years, instead of 8.
The Badgersett hybrid hazels are also far more widely adapted, climatically, than traditional tree hazels, and incorporate disease resistance from a complex genetic base. Instead of cropping in alternate years, the selection program is finding the genetics that allows the bushes to produce good crops every year. The hybrids have, in fact, been designed and selected to address many different problems, with built-in genetic answers.
Our search for useful genetic responses has been long, over 25 years now; intensive, with many thousands of data points compiled; and broad; over 70,000 individual hybrids are now growing in Badgersett test plantings, with some 20,000 more growing in plantings belonging to universities, state and federal research stations, and private individuals.
The greatest crop breeders the world has ever known were unquestionably
the pre-European invasion Native Americans. While our Old World ancestors
took wild grass and made slightly bigger grass (wheat, rye, oats, barley,
rice), our New World ancestors took wild grass and made corn; maize. A crop
so vastly more productive than any wild grass, and so different in its fruit,
the corn cob, that until just a few years ago many top scientists argued
it could not possibly have been derived from the wild grass teosinte. Genetic
fingerprinting proved it was; and bred by pre-Colombian Indians. They also
gave us potatoes, pumpkins, squash, all beans but soy and fava, turkeys,
tomatoes, and more.
They did it with villages; where not just the medicine men were interested in the crops, the entire village harvested and selected; and paid attention; and cheered the changes and improvements.
Hybrid bush hazels are at a point in their development just slightly advanced from the wild.
The genetic variation available to us in this hybrid gene pool is truly enormous; the genome is certainly larger than the entire world corn genome. Perhaps 10 times larger; perhaps, indeed, more than that.
What kind of food crops might the global village make of this friendly plant today?
And what might that mean for land that would no longer be plowed?
|Badgersett hazelnuts, round as marbles; with 18 nuts in this... cob.|