Most of the people we co-crop with have smaller orchards where owning the equipment needed for maintenance of their orchards just isn't an economical solution. We take care of the pruning, mowing, spraying, and harvesting. In return, we receive part of what that year's harvest sells for. Like most things related to farming, we do a years work for a single payday. Hopefully, it's a good one.
In our area, a lot of hazelnut growers still have Barcelona and Ennis hazelnuts, but due to a fungal disease called eastern filbert blight, that has hit these old standards hard, many newer resistant varieties are now being planted. There are still other varieties that have been around for a while, such as Casina, Royals, Willamette, but now there are a lot of Jefferson, Yamhill and other newer varieties going in.
Hazelnuts are normally harvested from mid-September through the first part of November. When ready, they fall to the ground by themselves (with a little help from the fall winds). We go into the orchards with Sweepers (smaller low-riding tractors with sweeping rollers and air blowers on their fronts) and blow the loose nuts into windrows. Windrows to us just means a row of nuts, leaves and whatever else gets swept up by the Sweepers. Following behind the Sweepers are the Harvesters.
Harvesters are large machines that sort of sweep and vacuum up the nuts, along with a fair amount of dirt and leaves. There are large fans that the nuts go across that try to blow out leaves and dirt, while moving the nuts on into the hopper. This whole system is pulled behind a tractor.
Another tractor used in this operation is a Shuttle tractor. This tractor has a set of forks on the back that the operator uses to carry totes. Hazelnut totes are wooden boxes approximately 4’heigh by 4’wide by 4’deep in size. A shuttle driver takes an empty tote, catches up with the harvester in the orchard and then backs up to the harvester hopper, pushing a lever with the tote which starts a belt in the hopper. This belt moves hazelnuts from the hopper to the tote. Oh, and this is all done while the harvester is still moving through the orchard, harvesting hazelnuts and the shuttle tractor is driving backwards.
Once the tote is full, the shuttle driver returns to the landing, drops off the full tote and grabs another empty tote and back into the orchard he goes. These full totes are loaded onto flat-bed trucks and trailers and are taken back to our farm.
Besides taking care of the fields and harvesting the hazelnuts, we also operate a Receiving and Drying station. This involves local farmers bringing in their nuts to us as they harvest them. We weigh, store, wash, re-weigh and dry the nuts, before hauling them to Northwest Hazelnut Company, who has contracted with the farmer's for their hazelnuts and our services.
September through November can be pretty busy for us, with half our people involved with harvesting our orchards and the other half working our receiving operation. Once harvest gets into full swing, the receiving station runs 24 hours a day 7 days a week, 3 shifts a day.
The harvesting in the orchards each day is pretty much as long a shift as needed. At the beginning of the season that's usually 6 or 7 days a week, 10+ hours each day. Later it becomes a 4 to 5 days on with a day or two off. You cannot harvest much if it's raining or just stopped raining, so the weather can dictated a lot when it comes to harvesting.
Usually harvesting consists of going through all our fields near the beginning of the season. This usually will take anywhere from a week to two weeks. Then a little while after that, depending on how many nuts have fallen since the first harvest, they'll go back through the fields as needed. Most of our fields will get harvested three or four times during a season. Some fields can be less or more depending on the year.
Northwest Hazelnut Company takes our nuts and processes them for what their customers need. They break them down by variety, size, grade and whether they leave the nut in the shell or take it out. Once all that is done, they ship those nuts domestically and all over the world, depending on their customer.
Gingerich Farms has grown many things over the past years, but for the last 25 years Hazelnuts, Grass Seed and Blueberries have been our mainstay.
Hazelnuts could be said to be a distinctive Oregon nut. Oregon grows 99% of the hazelnuts that are grown in the United States, and is the 3rd largest producer of hazelnuts in the world, behind Turkey and Italy. Though those other two countries make up roughly 95% of the world supply. That being said, Oregon's hazelnuts are still prized around the world for their size and taste!
We've have been growing hazelnuts (filberts as they're known in some areas of the country) for a long time. We not only farm our own orchards, but also co-crop with neighbors in our area. We currently are taking care of over 600 acres, with over 200 acres of that being our own orchards.