Lois Braun, Research Associate
Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics
American hazelnut (Corylus americana) is a native woody shrub that produces small but tasty nuts. Hybrids with European hazelnuts (C. avellana) add nut quality and yield traits to the hardiness and disease resistance of the natives. Over 40 Minnesotans already grow hybrid hazelnuts and many more landowners are looking for alternatives to corn and soybeans that provide continuous living cover to conserve soil, protect water quality, and enhance wildlife habitat at the same time as providing an economic return. Hazelnuts could do all of these, but improved varieties and better agronomic recommendations are needed for them to be profitable.
In 2008 researchers at the Universities of Minnesota and Wisconsin started planting the best American and hybrid hazelnut genotypes identified from the region into five replicated performance trials across the region for long term evaluation under controlled conditions. In 2012, in an effort to improve nut quality, we started back-crossing the best plants in our trials to advanced selections of European hazelnuts, using pollen from the hazelnut breeding program at Oregon State. To date, about 1700 seedlings from these crosses and from crosses made at Oregon State have been planted.
This grant will enable us to continue this breeding program to develop improved American and hybrid hazelnut varieties that will fulfill the needs of Upper Midwest landowners seeking economically profitable crops with which to perennialize the landscape. In addition, it will enable us to complete existing fertilization and weed control trials so we can make better agronomic recommendations to growers.