Jeff Newton is an outlier in the Oregon hazelnut world. In an industry decorated with farms passed down through the generations, Newton was the polar opposite. Nonetheless, he now stands as a paragon in the industry, always ready and willing to help improve a burgeoning crop.
Newton was recruited to work for Don Christensen and Christensen Farms in 1982. This was quite the change for a man who had been working in the vegetable seed industry and originally cut his teeth as a mechanic. He was a city kid from Salem, Oregon, who had little knowledge of production agriculture. However, his mechanical acumen and work ethic opened the door for what would become a 40-year career.
Christensen Farms is a diversified agriculture enterprise near Amity, Oregon, on the western reaches of the Willamette Valley. When Don Christensen hired Jeff in 1982, 28 acres of hazelnuts had just been planted. The pair would learn the industry together, and successive plantings throughout the decades led to a series of hazelnut orchards now totaling 950 acres.
Despite his novice background at the beginning, Jeff took to life managing the farm and learning on the job. He was never afraid to get his hands dirty and still actively tries to get in the fields as much as possible. He has become a major supporter and partner of the Oregon State University hazelnut research program. His trees and acres have been dedicated to helping with studies on topics from breeding and cultivar selection to pest management and sucker control.
With nearly 40 years of in-depth involvement and learning under his belt, Jeff is a major influencer and respected voice amongst his peers. His experiences have informed management practices for dozens of other hazelnut farmers, from double-density planting to responsible irrigation. In 2015, Newton’s peers named him the Grower of the Year.
Don’s son, Zach, now works side-by-side with Jeff to manage the farm. In addition to 950 acres of hazelnuts, they manage 2,500 acres of grass seed and clover; they have also dipped into the nursery side of the hazelnut industry.
Jeff may be eyeballing retirement, but with his knowledge and enthusiasm for hazelnuts, he still has plenty to offer an industry on the rise.