CORVALLIS - Oregon hazelnut growers have hit a harvest home run this year.

A record crop of exceptional quality is expected to fetch the highest price to the grower in a decade. The state's 800 growers have produced 42,000 tons of hazelnuts this year, eclipsing the previous record by 2,000 tons.

Both natural and human forces created this year's fortunate combination of high supply and strong prices. Many growers planted trees seven years ago that now are coming into full production. Hazelnut trees are a biennial producer, and this is the "on" year, said Shawn Mehlenbacher, a horticulture professor at Oregon State University.

Heavy production alternates with light in biennial plants, hence the heavy harvests this year and in 1995, the previous record year.

The weather is largely responsible for the high quality of the hazelnuts, Mehlenbacher said. Trees began blooming earlier last winter, allowing for pollination over a longer time. Spring rains lasted well into the summer, allowing the kernels to fill the shells.

Mike Klein, who represents 300 growers in the Hazelnut Bargaining Association, said that a record harvest usually isn't good news to growers. "It would mean low prices (to growers) if (Oregon) was an isolated market, but we're not," Klein said.

Oregon, whose state nut is the hazelnut, produces only 3 percent of the word's overall crop. Because of the premium quality of Oregon hazelnuts, most are sold in the shell. Most other hazelnuts are chopped into candies and chocolate or ground into powder for use in baking.

The marketing strategies of the world's leading hazelnut producers sets the prices.

Turkey produces between 450,000 and 500,000 metric tons of the world's hazelnuts and for the third year in a row, Klein said, the Turkish cooperative that runs that country's hazelnut marketing division held back an estimated 90,000 metric tons of their production to keep prices high. That move, designed to subsidize Turkish hazelnut growers, has benefitted Oregon's hazelnut growers as well.

This year, growers can expect to receive an average of 47 cents a pound, up five cents a pound from last year. The best price to the grower in the past decade was 50 cents a pound in 1987, Klein said.

While the exceptional quality of the nuts should delight consumers, they can expect to pay more. Last year, a pound of shelled hazelnuts sold for about $1.80; this year, the price is more than $2 a pound.

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Shawn Mehlenbacher, 541-737-5467