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SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture is predicting an excellent hazelnut harvest this fall and Oregon growers agree.

The latest production forecast issued this week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture calls for 52,000 tons of hazelnuts, surpassing last year's total of 32,000 tons and the previous record of 49,500 tons set in 2001, The Capital Press reported Thursday.

Total acreage of hazelnut trees has doubled in the last decade to reach more than 72,000 acres statewide, said Meredith Nagely, manager of the Hazelnut Industry Office in Aurora.

"We have a high-quality product, and there's just a huge potential," she said.

Tom Klevay, CEO of Willamette Hazelnut Growers in Newberg, said he anticipates greater harvests for the foreseeable future as growers continue gravitating toward hazelnuts, and new plantings reach maturity in the coming years.

"Hazelnuts, you don't have to plant them every year," Klevay said. "In the eyes of the grower, it's a crop that represents a good opportunity, so that's where they're placing their bets."
Oregon grows almost all the hazelnuts sold in the U.S., but has less than 4 percent of the overseas market. Industry leaders are working hard to develop new markets, both domestically and overseas, though higher tariffs in China and lower prices offered by Turkey have combined to heighten trade anxiety, Nagely said.

In Turkey, the world's predominant hazelnut producer, the lira has dropped about 60 percent compared to the dollar so far this year, which could potentially depress global hazelnut prices. Meanwhile, China slapped a 15 percent tariff hike on U.S. hazelnuts in April following the Trump administration's increased tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum.

While the prospect of selling more hazelnuts may not seem appealing at first glance, Klevay said a larger — and more predictable — supply of Oregon-grown hazelnuts may actually increase demand, opening new avenues to sell the crop.

"We feel that as the supply gets larger, the demand will follow, similar to what's happened with pistachios and almonds," Klevay said. "Our crop is known to be very high quality, and those markets that are looking for quality are opportunities for us going forward."

Nagely said the recent developments in China and Turkey have brought the Oregon hazelnut industry to the forefront, and that is not necessarily a bad thing.

"Our hazelnuts have been in a lot of discussions recently," she said. "It's an opportunity for us to make some things happen."

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