Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Hazelnut Performance Trials Established

In 2009, hazelnut researchers at the University of Minnesota, led by Lois Braun, established four hazelnut performance trials at the following four locations:
  • on the St. Paul campus of the U of M,
  • at the Southwest Research and Outreach Center near Lamberton, Minnesota,
  • on Norm Erickson's farm near Lake City, Minnesota, and
  • near Ashland, Wisconsin.

These performance trials were planted with rooted mound layers from the best hazelnut plants we had identified on eleven farms in 2007 and 2008. You can read a description of our mound layering methods at or on the Midwest Hazelnut Development website. Click on the link for "Research Data", under "Growers Helping Growers".

The idea of the performance trials is that a hazelnut which appears to be better than its neighbors may be good because it has good genetics, or because it just happens to be growing where conditions are good, such as where there used to be a compost pile or some such thing. To improve the genetics of hazelnuts, we need to select the ones with good genetics regardless of what kind of conditions they're grown under. It is hard to compare hazelnuts growing on different farms fairly because they are growing under different soil conditions and different management systems. So we are bringing the best plants from different sites together at one site to evaluate under common conditions. It's kind of like the play-offs in sports.

The St. Paul Campus. (This photo is actually of some hazelnuts we propagated by stem cuttings, but it's the best photo I have of the location and the planting system.) We don't advocate bare ground between rows, but that's what we started with here. We've since seeded some perennial grasses between the rows, including red fescue and chewings fescue. We do advocate woodchipping. Not only does it repress weeds, but it does a very good job of conserving soil moisture. In spite of the drought we experienced in the summer of 2009, we needed to do very little watering where we mulched thickly, as in this photo.

Norm Erickson's Farm, Lake City, MN.
Norm sprayed Roundup in the planting strips to
kill the grass in an old hayfield on his farm, leaving the grass between the rows. We simply hand-dug holes for planting the bare-root dormant layers into it in the fall of 2009. You can barely see the hazelnuts in this photo because most of them are a single leafless stem, though some of them are three feet tall. But you can barely see the chicken wire cages we put around them. We don't want to take any chances with the deer on these precious research plants! We didn't have enough woodchips to mulch more than just around the plants. That will be enough for moisture conservation, but we'll need to use a weed whip to keep the weeds down between the plants within the rows.

We will be adding additional plants to these trials over the coming years as growers identify additional outstanding individuals to include. The best plants to emerge from these trials will either be propagated for distribution to growers, or used as parent plants in future crosses to develop even better hazelnuts.