The Promise of Sustainable Agriculture: Environmental & Agricultural Benefits
Learn how hazelnuts require less water, sequester more carbon, and reduce soil erosion and nitrogen pollution.
One of the most exciting aspects of hybrid hazelnut production is their potential environmental benefits as an agriculture crop. Hazelnuts can thrive with minimal maintenance and a very low amount of input after establishment period. Hybrid hazelnuts can produce nuts on standard agriculture areas or on hilly, sloping, or marginal soil that generally can’t support most other crops.
Hazelnuts use less water and are drought resistant. Massive root systems allow perennial plants to avoid short term droughts that would adversely affect annual crops. Research in Nebraska has shown that hazelnuts can be a staple high-yielding dry land crop. If irrigation is needed, drip or trickle irrigation can be used with hazelnuts to greatly increase the efficiency of water use, conserving this vital resource.
- Hazelnuts sequester more carbon. Compared to annual crops, the extensive root systems of perennial crops help build and increases organic soil matter, sequestering more carbon from the atmosphere each year.
- Hazelnuts have a much greater period of photosynthetic activity than annual crops. Because of the full leaf canopy present in hazelnuts from early spring to late fall (unlike annual crops), there is a much longer period for photosynthesis and subsequent fixation of carbon dioxide. With annual crops, canopy closure doesn’t happen until summer: bare soil does not photosynthesize and fix carbon dioxide.
- Benefit to Farmer: Carbon Credit Aggregation: With higher annual carbon sequestration, farmers may receive a higher payment through programs like the Iowa Farm Bureau’s Carbon Credit Aggregation and AgraGate or other carbon aggregate programs, compared to annual crops.
According to this example from the 2008 Iowa Farm Bureau Credits hazelnuts should get a better return for carbon credit aggregation after establishment.
Range 0.19 metric tons per 100 Trees 1" dbh* to 4.78 metric tons per 100 trees for 7.66" dbh* (108 hazelnuts trees per acre in Oregon) vs. annual crops that get 0.50 metric tons per acre.
Source: Iowa Farm Bureau Carbon Credit Program Forestry Offsets from Tree Plantings &(PDF, 142 KiB)
Hazelnuts reduce/prevent soil erosion. There would be no yearly tillage required with hazelnuts. Oxidation of soil organic matter, which occurs during tillage, would be eliminated, thereby lessening carbon emissions and helping to build soil organic matter (a carbon sink).
Hazelnuts are classified as a riparian buffer zone species. Hazelnuts are classified by the USDA and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) as a riparian buffer zone species, acting as a natural biofilter that protects aquatic environments from excessive sedimentation, polluted surface runoff and erosion.
Hazelnuts have a longer period of complete soil cover. Compared to annual crops, hazelnuts provide complete soil cover much longer throughout the year. In addition, dormant vegetation and leaf litter prevents erosion from raindrop splash and wind throughout the winter months.
Large perennial root systems are active most of the year (below frost line), allowing little nitrogen leaching. Besides the environmental health benefits of greatly reduced nitrogen leaching, reduced nitrogen loss (better plant efficiency) means less use and waste of fossil fuels. This translates to reduced carbon emissions.
Hazelnuts can be grown sustainably on sloping land and on marginal soils not suitable to tillage. This method would lead to increased food or bioenergy production on these lands, without many of the associated risks of using this land for annual crop production. Improved harvesting machines will need to be developed (existing equipment might only need to be modified) for production to be most effective.