Irrigating Young Hazelnut Trees

Hazelnut orchard. Photo courtesy of Kathy Coatney

As Oregon’s hazelnut industry continues to expand, so does knowledge about the benefits of irrigation for optimum growth of the trees.

Jeff Newton, farm manager at Crimson West/Christensen Farms in McMinnville, said thinking has changed as hazelnut value has increased and growers are looking for earlier harvests and maximized yields.

Historically, a dry farmed crop in the Willamette Valley, hazelnuts are now being produced in a variety of soils and in new locations.

“We used to grow dry land filberts, now we grow irrigated hazelnuts,” said Newton. “It’s a totally different crop.”

Ongoing research at Oregon State University (OSU) is aimed at helping hazelnut growers with irrigation scheduling, soil moisture testing and choices in irrigation delivery systems. While the evapotranspiration rate for almonds has long been known, there is no established rate for hazelnuts—mature or young. That is another piece of helpful information Newton said should be coming soon.

Newton said he has been experimenting with water amounts and scheduling and working with OSU for the past eight years. Irrigating first year hazelnut trees is definitely worth the expense, he said, due to improved growth rates for the trees. In a dry year, he said, irrigation of young trees doubles the number of months for growth.

Initiation of irrigation during the growing season will depend on the water source. His trees are watered from a river source and he places his pumps out in June if there is no threat of them washing away due to high river flows.

Newton has used both micro sprinklers and drip in young orchards and feels drip does a better job of supplying water to the shallower roots. With older trees, the drip won’t be able to keep up with water needs and a second line should be added. Newton said he has found short, more frequent run times works well in one year old trees. This keeps the root zone filled and water isn’t wasted below the root zone.

Newton said he is using a single drip line in young orchards, finding it does a better job of keeping the soil profile filled for the smaller and shallow root zone of one year old trees.

He is also using several different methods to determine tree water needs including pressure bomb and a leaf monitor along with a trunk sap flow monitor.

Points to consider prior to installing an irrigation system include a reliable water source, and understanding that the delivery system may interfere with tillage and harvest.

Cecilia Parsons
Associate Editor at JCS Marketing, Inc. | + posts

Cecilia Parsons has spent the past 30 years covering agriculture in California for a variety of newspapers, magazines and organizations. During that time she has been fortunate to witness some of the important events that have shaped this diverse industry and worked hard to examine and explain these events for readers.
When Cecilia first moved to the San Joaquin Valley in 1976, her first journalism job was at a small daily newspaper where she covered “farm news.” From there she branched out to writing for a dairy magazine and a regional weekly agriculture publication.
Cecilia is part of a farming family from the rural community of Ducor where she also raises purebred sheep and is attempting to master versatility ranch horse riding.