The U.S. hazelnut industry is built on multi-generational family farms. With trees and orchards that can produce for more than 60 years, the labors of one generation can provide a livelihood for generations to come. Such is the case for the Chapin family near Salem, Oregon.
For nearly 40 years, Bruce Chapin has been the patriarch of one of Oregon’s most involved hazelnut families. However, he was not the first member of the Chapin family involved in Oregon agriculture. Bruce’s grandfather, Luther, was the first extension agent in the entire state of Oregon. He eventually transitioned from that role into full time farming in 1922. In the coming decades, the farm would go through many incarnations and focal crops.
For many years, the Chapins focused on seed crops—everything from sugar beets to grass seed—before making their foray into orchard crops. In 1969, Bruce and his father, Jack, planted their first hazelnut orchard. Throughout the next 50 years, the Chapins would steadily grow their acreage and involvement in the hazelnut industry.
Bruce began farming independently from his father in the mid-1980s; in the coming years, he grew increasingly involved with the Oregon hazelnut industry. He served as the president of the Nut Growers Society in 1991, was recognized by his peers as the Grower of the Year in 1996 and named Oregon Hazelnut Commission Service Recipient in 1998 and 2015.
As Bruce looks toward retirement, he is turning the keys over to the next generation. His son, Austin, and son-in-law, Matt Schuster, are working together to take over management duties. For the business to support a growing number of family members, they have diversified and expanded their enterprises. In addition to more hazelnut acres, the Chapins maintain 70 acres of cherries, an area of focus for Austin.
They also operate a large hazelnut receiving station, Chapin Dehydrating LLC, which services growers throughout the Willamette Valley. When Bruce began farming on his own in the mid-1980s, he started his first receiving station. After 20 years of tinkering, tweaking, adapting, expanding to the limit, and tote loads of ideas, it was time to conceptualize a brand new high-capacity receiving station. They can now clean, wash and dry millions of pounds of hazelnuts every fall with surplus capacity to handle the coming growth of the industry. If a hazelnut orchard, cherry orchard and receiving station don’t sound like enough to keep everybody busy, the Chapins also operate a nursery business!
The family is steeped in hazelnut tradition, and they are always keeping an eye toward the future. They continue to modernize, digitize and experiment with new practices in their operations; from new variety evaluations with the Oregon State University breeding program to various chemical and fertilizer trials to developing custom software for Chapin Dehydrating.
Austin and Matt each have families of their own—the fifth generation of Chapins to participate on the family farm. As the Chapins approach 100 years as Oregon farmers, they are in good hands for generations to come.