Hazelnut trees across Oregon’s Willamette Valley have lost limbs or collapsed under the weight of ice that accumulated over the weekend, requiring extensive pruning or replacement.
While many trees were flexible enough to bounce back once the ice melted, some toppled over or cracked in half from the strain.
“I think it’s the worst damage I’ve seen in terms of ice damage to orchards,” said Bruce Chapin, a hazelnut grower near Salem, Ore.
The ice storm isn’t likely to seriously reduce hazelnut production in 2021, particularly since so many younger, more resilient orchards have been in planted in recent years, experts say.
“If they were young enough to bend, they were young enough to survive the ice,” said Peter Ziedrich, a farmer near Dayton, Ore.
However, farmers who’ve sustained damage will be spending more money on labor to prune their orchards, eating into their bottom line.
“What it’s going to affect is the profitability,” Chapin said. “We’re going to have a lot of work out there and that’s pretty discouraging.”
Orchards planted within the past 12 years or so are in “pretty good shape” compared to older ones, which typically consist of cultivars susceptible to Eastern Filbert Blight, he said.
Trees that split from the ice load can survive, albeit with massive scars that will decay in the long term, Chapin said. In some cases, farmers will opt to replace older cultivars with those resistant to EFB, a fungal pathogen.
“Probably a few people will look at their orchards and think this is the year to replant with other varieties,” he said.
Damage was sustained throughout the Willamette Valley but it’s too early to tell how it will affect the region’s overall hazelnut output, said Nik Wiman, an Extension specialist in orchard crops at Oregon State University.
Even so, production is still likely to increase in 2021 because orchards planted to EFB-resistant cultivars are now reaching maturity, Wiman said. “A lot of the new acres are starting to really produce.”
Temperatures didn’t get low enough to harm hazelnut flowers, which are pollinated in January and February, and the ice actually provided a protective layer around the blooms, he said.
Though blight-infected orchards were most affected by the ice storm, some younger trees were also split along their trunks, Wiman said. In severe cases, growers can regrow them from suckers rather than buy new seedlings.
“You just have to cut it out, there’s nothing you can do with it,” he said.
Some cultivars, such as McDonald and Jefferson, appear to have suffered more from the ice than varieties such as Yamhill and Sacajawea, said Larry George, hazelnut grower and founder of the George Packing Co.
Trees that lost major limbs will require several years to recover their hazelnut-producing capacity, while farmers who just finished winter pruning will be saddled with that expense twice, George said.
“Now they get to go back out there and do the whole cleanup again,” he said.
Aside from cultivar, the amount of ice damage depended on orchard location, since some microclimates were more affected, as well as pruning practices and soil drainage, Ziedrich said.
Trees in areas that aren’t well-drained won’t have expansive root systems and are more prone to toppling over, he said.
Growers who are planning to replace their orchards after the ice storm will need to hurry, since the planting window is quickly closing, Ziedrich said. Trees must go in the ground while it still has enough moisture for them to develop solid roots.
“You don’t want to put trees in a dry hole and watch them wither away and die,” he said.
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