Hazelnut at the heart of more than just chocolate for Australian agriculture

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At the centre of those little gold chocolate parcels of happiness synonymous with celebrations and special events is the hazelnut. But there’s more to this small but mighty nut than just the centrepiece of a Ferrero Rocher.

Hazelnut is the fruit of the hazel tree. The nut falls out of the husk when ripe, about seven to eight months after pollination. The kernel of the seed is edible and is used raw or roasted, or ground into a paste. The seed has a thin, dark brown skin, which is sometimes removed before cooking.

The hazelnut industry in Australia is in its infancy but thanks to a greater awareness of their health benefits – they’re packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidant compounds and healthy fats – demand for hazelnuts is increasing.

In 2020, 1.3 million trees in south-eastern Australia produced approximately 350 tonnes of in-shell hazelnuts, with a farm gate value of $3.7 million.

However, Australia imports approximately 3,500 tonnes of hazelnut product annually, primarily from Turkey, providing a clear opportunity to displace imported product.

The Australian Hazelnut 2030 Strategic Blueprint has been produced as part of AgriFutures Australia’s Emerging Industries Program and identifies eight research and development priorities for industry to implement over the next decade, in an effort to meet the growing demand for the product.

“Plantings of hazelnut trees are for the longer-term investor, with commercial yields not expected until trees are approximately 7-10 years. But patience can yield,” Dr Olivia Reynolds, Senior Manager, Emerging Industries, AgriFutures Australia, said.

“Further, there is good evidence for the expansion of hazelnuts into areas outside of the temperate areas of south-eastern Australia, into warmer climates, providing more opportunities for current and potential growers.”

Industry to move forward together

Author of the Strategic Blueprint, Trevor Ranford, Executive Officer of the Hazelnut Growers of Australia Inc. said the Blueprint offers direction to the industry to move forward together.

“This Blueprint is probably the most comprehensive one that’s been done. We’re at a point where the hazelnut industry in Australia is about to expand quite rapidly from being a smaller emerging industry to a strong and progressive industry for those currently in it or those who might wish to invest in it,” Mr Ranford said.

“The Executive Committee of Hazelnut Growers Australia has been involved in the process, so the support is there and now the real challenge is turning the Blueprint into action.

“The process that the Association is using is very much built around bite-sized chunks of activities and building from a sound base which is what the Blueprint gives the industry to build capacity and resources as it goes forward.”

While emerging industries can take some time to prove themselves, Mr Ranford is confident with a whole industry approach, hazelnuts will achieve success on a comparable scale to another similar nut industry.

“Almonds started on a very low base a number of decades ago and now we’re one of the largest producers of almonds in the world and exporters to the world, so that’s the opportunity for an emerging and developing industry like hazelnuts to aspire to,” he said.

Sweet success on the horizon

Many Australian hazelnut operations are family operated enterprises. The recent establishment of Agri Australis, a subsidiary of the international confectionery business, Ferrero Group, has seen one million hazelnut trees planted in the Riverina region in NSW, near Narrandera. It’s provided a solid boost for further growth for the hazelnut industry, Mr Ranford says.

“For those 60 growers already in the industry it’s certainly added a strong impetus for expansion,” he said.

“Hazelnuts are important not only from a fresh nut perspective but also used in confectionery and ultimately in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

“There’s a wide range of uses for the nuts so there’s opportunities to develop value-add processes over and above the fresh market.”

The major markets for hazelnuts in Australia are in shell nuts that are large, clean and visually appealing,
and kernels that can be roasted or blanched. Australian hazelnuts in-shell are sold at farmers’ markets, fruit shops, health food shops and co-operatives.

There are several boutique cracking facilities producing kernels, which are sold through the internet, at farmers’ markets and to confectioners and patisseries. Some producers value-add to their kernels by making confectionery and health food products, hazelnut oil, flour and meal.

Locally grown kernels receive a price premium and are sought-after by restaurants, confectioners and patisseries because of the fresh taste of the local product compared with imported kernels.

Find out more about the AgriFutures Australia Emerging Industries program

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