Oregon’s hazelnut production is predicted to drop about 23 percent from 2006 production levels.

Smaller hazelnut crop predicted

PORTLAND — Federal agricultural officials predict that Oregon will produce 33,000 tons of hazelnuts this year, a 23 percent drop from last year but 20 percent more than in 2005.

Officials say boom years are often followed by a down year. Polly Owen, manager of the Hazelnut Marketing Board, said researchers have not identified a single cause for the fluctuations. Owen said the forecast is higher than earlier estimates, so she saw this week's prediction as "extremely good news."

To arrive at the estimate, federal experts randomly picked 180 filbert orchards in the state. In the spring, they randomly selected two trees on each of those orchards, and then randomly marked two branches from each of those trees, said Chris Mertz, director of the Oregon field office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Crews recently returned to those branches to pick nuts, which were delivered to the agricultural field office to be measured, weighed, cracked and analyzed. With the help of a computer program, the sample information was extrapolated for a statewide crop estimate.

Mertz said the estimates are usually pretty reliable. In 13 of the last 17 years, the forecast has been within 10 percent of the actual crop figure.

International market forces will determine whether growers will get high prices for this year's more modest crop. Turkey supplies 70 percent to 75 percent of the world's hazelnuts.

"We believe the price should be favorable," Owen said. "Their government in power is very much committed to not oversupplying the world."

Oregon supplies 3 percent to 5 percent of the world's crop, Owen said. Increasingly, those nuts, which are larger than the varieties grown by other countries, are exported to China and Hong Kong, where people eat them right out of the shell, Owen said.

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