CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University has developed a new high-yielding, blight-resistant hazelnut for the baking and chocolate industries.
Known as Wepster, or OSU 894.030, it was bred to be shelled, blanched and sold as kernels as an alternative to the OSU-bred varieties called Lewis, Clark, Sacajawea and Yamhill, said OSU's hazelnut breeder, Shawn Mehlenbacher. He announced the release today in Portland at the annual meeting of the Nut Growers Society of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.
OSU plans to license Wepster to nurseries that agree to pay a royalty of 50 cents per tree. Mehlenbacher expects nurseries to start selling a limited quantity of trees to growers this spring and a larger amount next winter.
Wepster produces small, round kernels, making it ideal for the chocolate industry, which prefers kernels with a diameter of 11-13 millimeters, Mehlenbacher said.
The result of a cross made in 1997, the variety is named after the Wepster family in honor of their contributions to the Oregon hazelnut industry and OSU's hazelnut breeding program. The family also helped create the Oregon Hazelnut Industry Endowed Professorship, which Mehlenbacher holds.
Wepster has several advantages over its peers, Mehlenbacher said. At 15 feet, it's taller than Yamhill, whose shorter stature makes it harder for machinery to get under its canopy and sweep up and collect the nuts, he said. Wepster doesn't require much pruning or training, he added.
The tree also has a high level of resistance to eastern filbert blight, which is present throughout the Willamette Valley where 99 percent of the U.S. hazelnut crop is grown. The fungal disease produces cankers that girdle branches, and it can significantly decrease yields. The tree is also immune to big bud mites, which feed on the flower buds and cause them to swell and die.
Wepster's yields are consistently high, Mehlenbacher said. It came out on top in one trial comparing nine different cultivars planted in 2006. It produced 57 pounds of nuts (including the shells) per tree over five years versus 43 pounds for Yamhill. In another trial, Wepster yielded 43 pounds, or about the same as OSU's Jefferson, Yamhill and Santiam varieties. Additionally, few moldy kernels were observed in Wepster in contrast to Yamhill and especially Santiam.
In trials, about 95 percent of Wepster's nuts lost their husks at maturity. They fell to the ground about a week before the variety known as Barcelona did, allowing them to be collected before the start of the rainy season.
When weighed in one analysis, about 47 percent of the nut's total weight was from its kernel, about the same as Yamhill and higher than Barcelona's 43 percent. In another trial, however, Wepster came in at 44 percent compared with Yamhill's 46 percent. Mehlenbacher noted that in 2011, when hazelnut trees were heavily loaded with nuts, Yamhill's shells didn't have much kernel in them, making them unmarketable. In contrast, Wepster's kernels sufficiently filled up the shells that year.
Wepster also beats out Yamhill in another area, Mehlenbacher said. During blanching, only half of Yamhill's inner skin, or pellicle, comes off. In contrast, Wepster's moderately fibrous inside layer is easily removed from the kernels with dry heat.
Given that hazelnut trees can't be pollinated by ones that are genetically identical, recommended pollinizers for Webster are OSU's York, Gamma and the university's yet-to-be-released selection known as OSU 880.027.
Oregon orchardists sold $44 million of hazelnuts in 2011, making the nut the state's 24th most important agricultural commodity, according to a report by the OSU Extension Service. Also known as a filbert, the hazelnut is Oregon's official nut.