For the first time in two years, Oregon hazelnut growers had the privilege of gathering for the largest event on the industry calendar: the annual Winter Meeting. After an all-virtual meeting in 2021, farmers were joyful to be back in-person for the 107th edition of the event.
An estimated 600 growers, guests, speakers, sponsors and vendors gathered to celebrate all things hazelnuts and learn about the year ahead for the industry. A new venue, Spirit Mountain, was chosen to host the event to give attendees a new experience.
The dynamic speaker panel is the traditional highlight of the day, and this year’s itinerary featured a mix of usual favorites and new special guests.
Following the annual business meeting, Colleen Nihen, executive director of the Hazelnut Industry Office, apprised attendees on the status and responsibilities of the Industry Office, from collecting industry data, to promotional efforts, to grower education.
Logistical issues brought on by the pandemic are causing chaos in all facets of life, with agriculture surely feeling the burden. A panel of speakers representing the machinery, chemical supply and trucking industries provided attendees with key insights on what to expect in the year(s) to come as well as what they can do to mitigate the impacts on their operations.
Among the ever-popular presentations are legislative updates from Salem and the pricing report from the Hazelnut Growers Bargaining Association. Both captivated the crowd again as growers listened intently to learn how domestic and global political issues could impact their farms.
Research took the stage next with Jay Pschiedt, Vaughn Walton and Shawn Mehlenbacher from Oregon State University providing news on their ongoing studies. Topics included managing Eastern Filbert Blight and Bacterial Blight, mitigating Filbertworm damage in hazelnut orchards and the hazelnut breeding program.
The presentation portion of the day ended with a panel discussion on pruning best practices. Growers with a variety of opinions debated the pros and cons of each method, including the sometimes-divisive vertical hedging style.
Each year at the Winter Meeting, prestigious awards are handed out to select hazelnut growers. Chief among them is the Grower of the Year award. Since 1970, this award has annually gone to a grower who has dedicated countless hours and effort in service to the hazelnut industry; this includes serving in leadership roles on the boards of the Nut Growers Society, Oregon Hazelnut Commission and Hazelnut Marketing Board.
The Grower of the Year is Tom Rogers. Rogers has been a hazelnut farmer for more than 45 years. He served as the NGS president in 2017 and served two terms on the Oregon Hazelnut Commission from 2015-19. He continues to be a generous volunteer for the industry, routinely stepping in wherever needed.
The Oregon Hazelnut Commission also honored its recently retired board members with OHC Service Awards. This recognition is bestowed upon commissioners who completed their terms in the past year. Garry Rodakowski, Tim Newkirk, Shaun George, Sean Denfeld, Tristan Gingerich and Dan Keeley were all presented plaques and recognized for their work.
The NGS board of directors and the Hazelnut Industry Office chose to present a specialty award this year to somebody who has contributed more time and energy to the U.S. hazelnut community than almost any other individual. Polly Owen served as the director of the Hazelnut Industry Office for more than 20 years. During her tenure, the industry ballooned from 30,000 to 90,000 acres. She oversaw the work of the NGS, OHC, HMB and AOHI throughout the highs and lows of this growth period. The PollyO hazelnut tree variety was named by Oregon State University in her honor. Owen retired in 2021 but remains an influential figure in the hazelnut world.