Nurserymen are the gatekeepers for the Oregon hazelnut industry. They source the trees from Oregon State University and sell them to local growers. Many nurserymen sell trees as “bare-root” stock when they are a year or two old, whereas others specialize is a unique process known as micropropagation.
Growers in the Willamette Valley are fortunate to have one of the world’s premier micopropogator in their own backyard. North American Plants was one of the first companies to micropropagate hazelnut trees, and to date, remains the largest to do so.
“We began working with plant tissue cultures (micropropogation) in 1998 and the business has been growing over the last two decades. We are propogating approximately 16 million trees per year, now; we are the largest tissue culture facility in the USA,” says Dr. Yongjian Chang, president of North American Plant. The company propagates a wide array of nut and fruit trees, as well as berries.
The micropropagation process begins when a new hazelnut variety is bred and released for sale. These new varieties often come from universities, and in the case of hazelnuts, from Oregon State University.
“We receive the mother material of new hazelnuts from Oregon State University and multiply them in our tissue culture lab. We then grow the plants in our greenhouse to about three-to-six inches in height. Finally, we move them on to our customers, many of them nurseries in Oregon,”s Dr. Chang. “We also grow up the trees in gallon pots for hazelnut growers directly.”
Throughout the entire micropropagation process, the plants are kept in a highly controlled, sterile environment so they are not exposed to any danger or disease; factors like temperature and humidity are also meticulously regimented. Each type of plant is fed with its own specific recipe, dialed in to the exact nutrition mixture ideal for vitality. For example, the hazelnut trees receive a different recipe than the raspberries or pistachios.
Once the plants reach a final stage and are too large to be stored in jars, they are transplanted into individual plugs. The stock is then moved into a large greenhouse where the plants live until they are shipped to a buyer. These buyers can be the end user or plants more commonly go to wholesale nurserymen.