Grower Highlight: The Horning Family

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The Horning family knows farming. For three generations, the family has been growing a little bit of everything on their Corvallis, Oregon acreage.

Steve Horning, his wife, Krissy, and his parents currently manage the operation—Deerhaven Farms—as a quartet. Nearly 70 years ago, it was Steve’s grandfather and great uncle who began farming together. In the fertile and versatile Willamette Valley soil, they began their agriculture careers as vegetable farmers. Their success in the ensuing years propelled the farm to grow and diversify. More recently, the Hornings entered the grass seed market, one of Oregon’s hallmark industries.

Steve returned to the family farm in 2007 and began looking toward the future. A new commodity was picking up steam and the Hornings were ready to capitalize. They planted their first hazelnut orchard in 2009. One advantage of starting fresh with new varieties was the advent Eastern Filbert Blight-resistant trees. The disease once destroyed orchards and nearly wiped out the industry until researchers at Oregon State University discovered and bred hazelnut varieties that were not susceptible.

When the Hornings endeavored into hazelnuts, they first purchased a farm with Lewis trees, one of the earliest EFB-resistant varieties. Subsequently, they planted Jefferson and McDonald trees; starting with EFB-resistant trees gave them a leg up in the early years and set the stage for tremendous growth. To date, they manage nearly 685 acres of hazelnuts.

They may have begun with the best possible trees but the soil took some time to curate. The Missoula Floods — a series of Glacial Flood events that occurred nearly 15,000 years ago throughout Oregon and Washington — left the area south of Corvallis with less topsoil than areas further north in the Willamette. While still fertile soil, this does mean more rocks are close to the surface, and over time, those rocks emerge on the surface. In a hazelnut orchard, these rocks end up being harvested with the nuts.

Most farmers expect a few rocks, but the Hornings sit atop the mother load. To counteract the potential harm to their orchard, harvest and equipment, they started engineering a solution. They consulted with industry leaders and eventually conceptualized their own equipment that more efficiently separates the nuts from the rocks. They went from having the most questions to becoming the growers with the most answers for their peers dealing with rock-rich soil.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and that mantra has served Deerhaven Farms well. The Hornings excel at problem solving and their ability to adapt has proven valuable as they lead the new wave of Oregon hazelnut farmers.