By DOUG GRAVES
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Say what you want about those nut tree farmers. Call them nuts if you will. But rest assured, these people have a steady growing presence in the agricultural landscape.
According to a report recently released by Freedonia Focus Group of Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. demand for nuts and seeds is forecast to reach $7.1 billion by 2022. The reasons? A rising population, higher disposable personal incomes and an ongoing consumer trend toward healthier snacks.
Almond demand in value terms is projected to represent the fastest growing and largest product segment in 2022. In volume terms, almond sales are also projected to register the most rapid gains. The healthy profile of almonds will contribute to gains as will their presence in various recipes and derivative products, such as almond butter, flour, and milk.
In Research Corridor’s recent report titled “Nuts and Seeds Market,” other nuts, such as cashews, peanuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, pine nuts and macadamia nuts, will bring producers steady profits through 2020. Seeds, the report says, consisting of sunflower, flaxseeds and sesame seeds, will be highly coveted through this period as well.
“I have my own walnut trees, but I scavenge county parks and woods throughout Ohio for these nuts because they bring good money,” said Orville Stamp, who tends to 200 walnut trees on his property in Preble County in Ohio.
Stamp also has pecans, hazelnuts and hickory nuts on his property. He also has a few hicans, which is a cross between a hickory and a pecan.
“Many people planted trees in the early and mid 1900s during wartime because there were food shortages and nuts were an alternative source of protein,” said Ohio Farm Bureau member Joe Cullman, a second-generation nut farmer from Marysville. Sixty of his 120 acres is comprised of nut trees. His father started nut farming in 1987.
At Joe Hietter’s Nut and Horse Farm in Pataskala, Ohio, there is a multitude of black walnut, heartnut, chestnut, hazelnut, hickory, pecan and hican nut trees. Hietter planted trees every year since 2004 and they now range in size from small seedlings to mature trees, some over 30 feet tall.
Stamp, Cullman and Hietter eventually sell their nuts (in the hull) to Hammons, a Missouri nut hauling station that comes to Ohio in the fall. Growers are paid by the pound. Shelled nuts are sold online, locally and through catalogs. The after-product, or ground shells, are used for sandblasting and in health and beauty products.
Assisting nut growers like this trio is the Ohio Nut Growers Association (ONGA). The organization was formed in 1941 as a way of supporting and educating farmers, nut growers, agriculturalists and others. Its mission today is to promote the demand for and sales of nuts and nut products.
“It is where I learned to graft trees and grow nuts,” Cullman said, referring to the ONGA. “If you have five or six acres you can produce a good specialty crop to supplement your income. The ONGA is a great resource for new growers as well for the old timers to learn about new technologies and growing methods.”
In the Bluegrass State they’re equally nuts about nuts. There are approximately 300 members of the Kentucky Nut Growers Association (KNGA).
The KNGA has been around for 50 years and tells its members that Kentucky is well suited to grow a variety of nuts, including Northern pecans, black walnuts, heartnuts, hickory nuts, Carpathian walnuts, American hazelnuts and Chinese chestnuts.
“One of the more popular nuts is the pecan,’’ says KNGA president Danny Ganno. “While many think of Georgia when it comes to pecans, Kentucky’s climate is good for Northern pecans, a smaller and oilier nut than its bigger cousin grown in places such as Georgia.”
Pecan trees, while they thrive best in Oklahoma and Texas, do well in Illinois as well. These trees can live 130 years or more and grow 90 feet tall. The only drawback is pecans are among the slowest crops to establish.
Almonds prefer a hot, dry climate. Almond trees produce nuts in about five years and can reach about 25 feet tall. They must have two cultivars for cross-pollination and are pollinated by honey bees.
Chestnut trees grow as far north as Michigan and as far south as northern Florida. Chestnuts grow 40 to 80 feet tall.
“Chestnut trees are very easy to grow,” says Sandra Anagnostakis, a chestnut scientist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. “A chestnut orchard will require less investment in spraying for pests than apples or peaches.” The tree’s limitation is soil type and adequate moisture.
Hazelnuts grow well in any of the states in the Farm World readership area. The plant will start producing within two to three years and can stay productive for 60 years. Hazelnuts require only a few sprays for bud mites or blights. The trees do well on soils that are moderately acidic and respond very well to nitrogen fertilizer. They are also drought-tolerant.
Hickory are slow-growing trees that may take decades to bear nuts but can live for centuries. Hickory trees need a very long taproot before then can begin producing nuts. They also adapt well to disturbed areas and poor soils.
Walnuts can take three to five years to produce a crop and can live for centuries. The trees grow up to 100 feet tall. Most producers plant 300 trees on each acre.