Name and location of family farm?
Funny you should ask about the farm name. My wife Katie and I have joked that we need to come up with a good name for some time but haven’t really settled on anything. The current leader is “Nut House Farm” because we sometimes think we are nuts for embarking on this adventure. Our farm is located about five miles east of Mount Angel, OR.
How long has your family owned your farm?
In 1998 Katie and I purchased our family home and about six acres; situated adjacent to my grandparents’ farm. In 2015 we purchased 72 acres from my grandparents’ estate. Combined, this forms what we now think of as our family farm. My grandparents originally purchased the farm in 1949 and they operated it as a dairy until the late 1970’s. They then leased the land to local farmers until we purchased it.
Please offer some details about your farming history and what is your role.
Ironically, I had little actual farming experience until we planted our hazelnut orchard. I grew up on the family farm, but the dairy was mostly retired by the time I was 5 and other than working for local farmers during the summer I did not have much direct farming experience. Once we bought the land, we had to figure out what to do with it. We knew a few people who farmed hazelnuts and it seemed like something we could manage while keeping our regular jobs. I would say my specific role is that of the primary operational and business manager of the farm, though Katie and I discuss all major decisions together.
How long have you farmed hazelnuts (or when did you first plant)?
We planted our first Wepster trees in January 2016. Our plan was to double-plant Wepster/McDonald, but the McDonald trees didn’t make size at the nursery so had to wait until January 2017 to plant the McDonald trees.
How many total acres of nuts (if you don’t mind sharing) and what varieties do you grow?
We have ~50 acres of double-density Wepster/McDonald and just put in ~6 acres of single-density Polly-O last winter. We will ultimately remove the Wepster trees from our 50-acre plot since the mortality rate has been so much higher on those trees and we prefer the growth habit of the McDonald.
How does your family participate (or not) in the farming operation?
The project is definitely a family activity. I am the primary worker on the farm, handling the business side of the farm, as well as pretty much all the scaffold pruning, floor prep, spraying, and harvesting. My wife Katie and our kids help with many activities as well though, including sucker pruning, rodent control, painting, mowing, hand-fertilizing the younger trees, staking, planting, etc. We have four children, and all have worked hard over the years when needed. Our oldest son Matthew (who is now 22, married out of the house) did quite a bit of work for us in the early years. Our son Nathaniel is 20 now and has also helped tremendously. Through his experience on our farm and our industry connections he was hired by Nik Wiman to work at the research farm in Aurora. Joshua is 16 and has been of great help. He’s glad he doesn’t have to move pipe any longer since we installed drip last year. Rosemary is 12 and has pruned suckers and helped fertilize among other things. My father-in-law has been extremely helpful as well. He is a retired mechanic, which is always helpful, and he provides excellent analysis and advice as we consider various options for how to solve difficult challenges. He also did the bulk of the hauling of our nuts to the receiving station this year. Overall, we have managed to do nearly all the work ourselves, which keeps us directly involved with all day-to-day operations and keeps the family connected to the farm in a very concrete way.
Anything you have done that is innovative or different?
One thing I have done is to write an Android phone application that assists me with keeping track of key details such as where I placed my gopher traps, how far I am through an orchard spray, and exactly which trees were replanted, etc. It’s quite a useful app and since I store my data in the cloud, my son can run the same app on his phone and know exactly where to go to replace any dead trees or to check gopher traps, etc. It also is of great assistance for making sure my calculations are correct early on when spraying and fertilizing. Another thing we did was to purchase a Monchiero Harvester so I could manage the harvest by myself mostly. I think overall that has been a great decision and we are quite happy with its performance so far during the first two years of harvest.
Any other comments you might have on what you like about farming hazelnuts, outlooks on the future, struggles you have had?
We absolutely love the farm. It is a lot more work than we imagined, but it is definitely rewarding. I am someone who loves to solve problems and farming is full of them. It seems almost every decision is a complex set of tradeoffs with no obvious best answer. Do we go with a bare-floor or a cover-crop? What is the most efficient way to harvest and haul nuts? What is the best approach to managing the winter pruning? Is drip irrigation worth it and should it be above ground or shanked? We aren’t always sure we made the right decisions, but so far it seems the orchard has forgiven us for any mistakes we have made. Our farm, which is situated along Butte Creek, has significant riparian areas that had been taken over by invasive plants such as English Ivy, blackberries, and wild clematis (Old Man’s Beard). We have been working diligently to restore and reclaim the riverfront to a more natural state, which has been a challenging but rewarding project. Lastly, this endeavor has also been an opportunity to keep the farm in the family for at least another generation, or two, which was really important to Katie and me. I grew up on this farm and we are all connected to it.
How long have you been a member of HGO?
We joined HGO officially in 2019, with our first small crop coming in the fall of that same year.
What are the benefits of membership or anything you would like to say about HGO?
I’ve had nothing but wonderful experiences with the growers and other folks within HGO. Tim and Tom Aman have been extremely helpful to me, as have other growers. Ryan has been a great addition to the team, and I’ve enjoyed discussing the challenges and nuances of the industry with him. I am currently following the Valley-Ag Hazelnut recommendations for orchard nutrition and have benefited from the chem/fert program offered through HGO there.