Woody Agriculture - On the Road to a New Paradigm

This is a guest post by Philip A. Rutter, B. L. Rutter-Daywater, and S. J. Wiegrefe. Phil Rutter is the Founding President of The American Chestnut Foundation; trained in ecology and evolution, he has been working in SE Minnesota for 35 years on domesticating several woody plant genera for commodity agriculture-style food production. I know Phil personally and believe in woody agriculture as a partial response to the energy/environmental constraints we face, (and just planted 300 hazelnut seedlings this spring).

In any attempt to comprehend a puzzle, or choose a new path forward, the first requirement is to see and comprehend each of the possibilities. We wish to bring to the attention of the energy community a potential food and biomass energy paradigm, previously unknown, to your considerations.

Our current agricultural paradigm choices include either “industrial” agriculture; large scale with extensive fossil fuel inputs, or the “organic” routes, usually deemed insufficiently productive by professional agronomists. Claims that agriculture can yield significant energy, while also producing the necessary food for the world, are a matter of rancorous dispute.

The current article will present a 3rd paradigm, depending on newly domesticated woody plants for primary food production, equal to industrial agriculture. These crops capture far more solar input than row-crops can; and always also produce wood; some of which will always be available for energy purposes. This work has been quietly underway for 35 years; farmers are now growing the crops. We here present basics on how the energetics work, practices, outputs, and the state of the art.

Most Oil Drum readers will be familiar with the Land Institute’s work and hopes for a perennial agriculture based on future domestication of wild perennial prairie grasses. The Land Institute is a non-profit, and one of its major products is publications.

Badgersett Research Corporation (BRC) has been working over the same time period, but with a very different goal; a perennial agriculture; but based on woody plants rather than grasses. Very few are aware of this work; partly because we are a C corporation, i.e. for-profit, and publicity priorities are quite different. Why did we choose the business pathway instead of the non-profit? If our work is to have impact on the real world- it must make economic sense; and demonstrate that.

To start with the bottom line; after 30 some years of work, in 2010 the official position of The Land Institute remains that “we estimate that commercially viable perennial grain crops could be available within 20 years.” No farmers are growing any, anywhere. In the same time frame, over 500 growers across North America have made experimental plantings of Badgersett neohybrid hazelnuts, with approximately 100 of them now actually planting for crop production; last year saw the first actual machine harvest, and five universities have launched their own independent hybrid hazelnut research programs (U MN, U WI, UNL, Rutgers, OR State); all following our lead.

The reason this should be of interest to the energy community is that woody plants produce biomass, as well as seed (oil and protein). It has always been an intrinsic part of our design that various wood (and oil) components of the system would be produced as an energy crop. We are now struggling to keep up with the biomass production on our primary farms in Minnesota and Illinois. For those with concerns beyond the energy arena, we wish to point out that the woody food crops we are developing are specifically designed to be both resilient and versatile, aspects so far not included in the various proposed “dedicated” biomass energy crops.

It is of course impossible to entirely present and delineate an entire paradigm in the course of one blog post. Make no mistake, we’re talking about a full paradigm shift; potentially achieving primary world food production from woody crop plants. We will however attempt to present the skeleton components and rationales, and high points, with references to additional resources. Covered are Energetics; Genetics; Products; Practices; Progress; and the Future. Be warned that the links provided are generally to large full discussions, not brief notes.

We call it “Woody Agriculture”, tightly defined as: “The intensive production of agricultural staple commodities from highly domesticated woody perennial plants.”

We breed 3 genera of woody plants, hazelnuts (Corylus), chestnuts (Castanea), and hickory-pecan (Carya), for crops with wide adaptation and multiple uses, each with both food and biomass components. Both bush and tree forms are under development.

What we work on is distinct from the multiple versions of “Agroforestry”, which typically means growing timber with food crops, but no significant food from the trees themselves; and from “Tree crops”, the traditional practices described by J.Russell Smith in 1929, which do not include the potential for crop improvement using modern genetics. Agroecology and Permaculture are additional embodiments of progressive alternative agriculture; mainstream agronomists tend to feel both may deliver more ideologies than technologies, and so far can demonstrate few impacts on global problems. None of these alternatives have proven attractive to large scale farmers; and it is specifically large scale agriculture that has the most serious environmental impacts.

The many potential benefits of a perennial agriculture have long been recognized. The senior author first presented our concepts at the ”2nd North American Conference On Preparing For Climate Change”, in 1988; with additional aspects discussed at the climate conference in Cairo, Egypt, in 1989. A more recent and fairly linear introduction is on our website. An earlier informal expatiation can be found here, and of course The Land Institute has frequently expounded on the subject.

For students of energy systems, a major question in proposed perennial agriculture has always been how to dissect inputs and possible gains, and how to compare such theoretical systems with those in place. Stating our bottom line first; long term inputs are dramatically smaller than for standard agriculture, and potential solar energy capture is very much greater; in the range of 3X more than single crop maize.

Why don’t we already get our crops from trees, if this is such a good idea? That is the quintessential question faced by every innovator since time began; and it is a question known to rarely have merit. Most of our technologies exist as they are because our grandparents inherited them from their own grandparents. That is most especially true in agriculture. The full answer will make a tome, some day, but start here: there are several assumptions widely made about trees, that turn out not to be true.

A very topical advantage: as we write this, the US is in the grip of a broad and severe drought, already affecting crop prices and raising great concern. Our neohybrid hazels, growing under the same conditions which have destroyed neighboring corn fields, are nearly unaffected- except they are ripening their seed crop ahead of schedule. Experience in a similar drought in 1988 showed they could bear the crop, and also bear their crop in the next year.

Woody crops are also more tolerant than row crops to the other end of the weather spectrum; flood. Flood water that covers young annual plants will generally kill them; but woody plants, with their tops above water, are essentially unaffected.

As we proceed into global climate change, this broader tolerance of environmental variation will prove increasingly desirable.

One additional energy related advantage: woody agriculture can produce food; on the same scale as modern agriculture. But because of the 3X energy capture aspect the same crop can simultaneously produce a biomass fuel component. In the case of hazelnuts, our top recorded experimental yields, based on multiple single-bush data, indicates that food production exceeding soybean averages is attainable, with the nutshell component of the crop available for fuel, annually.

Figure 1

Dry neohybrid hazelnut shell is dense, with an energy content measured at 8,800 BTU/lb, at 1.8% ash. The wood component of the crop is harvested on a rotating basis, approximately once every 8-10 years. The entire energy picture for these crops is much more complex, and very importantly- flexible, within and between years, always with the potential to retain the food component.

The conflict between producing food and producing biofuels already has been a matter of heated debate, which will only grow more acute in the future.

For those with the interest, an hour-long video lecture is available on YouTube; the recorded introductory presentation from our annual 2 day Short Course. Be forewarned, this is an unhurried format, and starts out slow by internet standards; but the pace does pick up, and it is comprehensive.


Figure 2

Because woody perennial plants use energy stored from the previous year’s photosynthesis, they are able to deploy a full functional, deeply 3 dimensional solar collection array very rapidly, as soon as local average temperatures make physiological processes efficient. Annual row crops, of course, must build new collection capabilities out of current energy capture; and while perennial grasses also used stored energy to deploy collectors, they cannot achieve nearly the same depth or complexity.

One limit for any agricultural system must be; how much sunlight can be captured; assuming water and nutrients are not limiting? This question was not asked, during the evolution of world annual crops; they were developed in antiquity, for quite unrelated reasons.

In attempting to design a system from scratch, it is wise to seek natural limits, where they may be visible. In the case of agriculture; where does nature achieve its greatest efficiency? Vast amounts of academic effort have been expended on the measurement of “primary productivity”. The difficulties to making valid comparisons between ecosystems – remains equally vast. In searching for an alternative metric, we found one that we believe provides excellent, reproducible measurements of “photosynthetic potential”. That measure is simply the total amount of chlorophyll currently present in the system being studied. We are aware that not all chlorophyll is “equal” in terms of actual productivity, the number of confounding details being large; but in general plants do not maintain chlorophyll that is not in use at all; individual plant cells typically make, and resorb, chloroplasts depending on current needs. If it is present; the plants are making some use of it.

In their seminal article “Comparative Chlorophyll and Energy Studies of Prairie, Savannah, Oakwood and Maize Ecosystems.” Ecology, Vol 48 #4; pp 515-524 1967; JD Ovington and DB Lawrence took measurements over the course of the year in those four ecosystems. Their findings are very telling:

Figure 3

In terms of ecosystem potential energy capture, the forest dramatically outstrips both agriculture and grassland systems. The “savanna” is mixed tree and grass. The prairie is the least active of the natural systems measured; most natural prairies exist as such because of a climatic lack of water. Notice that in April, the oak woodland starts out with more chlorophyll present than ever exists in the grasslands. We can confirm that measurement is correct, and we find the chlorophyll in surprising places, doing work we end up harvesting.

Another useful hint about where to look for productivity should come from agricultural statistics. FAOSTAT is a stunning goldmine of global data, accessible to all; but making broad comparisons between crops regarding “food” turns out to be exceedingly complex. Protein content of cassava, for example, is hard to compare to the carbohydrates values in wheat. Edible oils, however, are more directly reported, allowing us to generate the following graphic, once conflicting measures were translated. We reiterate; the numbers for hazel are calculated from research; not measures of actual field production.

Figure 4: Note that the hybrid oil palms in Malaysia are in fact crosses between different species of palms, like our neohybrids; and in terms of oil alone they out-produce soybeans, so widely touted as the pinnacle of modern agricultural science, by nearly an order of magnitude. The low blue bar is our estimate of current neohybrid hazel genetics, which we know to be still well short of eventual potential.

EROEI calculations for these crops are simply not yet available; but in all equations, the numbers for “tillage” expenses can be deleted from any woody perennial crop.


We regret having to coin the word “neohybrid”; neologisms are always irritating, but it is necessary. Modern agriculture is dominated with “hybrid” crops, and both scientists and farmers believe they understand what that means. “Species hybrids” is technically correct, but utterly inadequate to describe our gene pools, and with no real meaning accessible to farmers.

Our crops are being created using a genetic technique absolutely unrelated to the farmers’ definitions of “hybrid”. Specifically, we utilize a natural process known to evolutionists as a “hybrid swarm.” Hybrid swarms are documented occurring in nature across all examined organisms, plant and animal. In our opinion, it may prove to be one of the most common sources of speciation. In some cases, natural hybrid swarms are so productive of new genotypes adapted in different directions that they have been called “species swarms” in an attempt to convey the complexity generated.

Modern agricultural hybrids are created by extreme inbreeding, within one species. When two such inbreds are crossed, seedlings are highly heterozygous, generating the hoped for “hybrid vigor”, and also a population where all individuals are virtually genetically identical to one another; i.e. with extraordinarily low genetic diversity.

Neohybrids are as far on the other end of the scale of individual genetic diversity as it is possible to get. In fact, our populations of artificially created hybrid swarms are generating genetic diversity that is not possible to attain through standard breeding. Rather than working with a gene pool derived from one species, we have individuals containing genes from as many as 4 different species; in an unprecedented wealth of combinations- which are all nevertheless from related organisms. All the genes in the hazel swarm- are hazel genes; no genetic engineering is used.

Our hybrid swarms may be described as:

•NeoHybrid Hazelnuts = (Corylus avellana X C. americana X C. cornuta)5
•NeoHybrid Chestnuts= (Castanea mollissima X C. dentata X C. sativa X C. crenata)4
•NeoHybrid Hickory/Pecan = (Carya illinoiensis X C. ovata X C. cordiformis)3

By no means are all the resulting individual plants either “vigorous” or even desirable; a great many must be rejected. Computerized record keeping on multiple years of performance is critical. However, many such hybrids do show traits valuable for purposes of domestication, e.g. increased seed production beyond what can be found in wild populations. We call this process Accelerated Guided Evolution (AGE).

Figure 5

Precise details of the inner genomic workings of these hybrids is far beyond the scope of this article. The “proof of principle” for AGE breeding lies in the fact that in 30 years; in 3 different crop genera; we have demonstrated dramatic statistical advances in: climate adaptation, disease resistance (our gene pools are fully tolerant of chestnut blight and Eastern filbert blight), annual crop bearing, heavier crop bearing, and shortened generation times. At the extreme end of the heavy crop spectrum, we have generated hybrids that can kill themselves by “overbearing”. Generation time has been shortened to the theoretical maximum for hazels and chestnuts; some breeding lines regularly produce individuals which commence flowering a few weeks after the seed germinates. That extreme precocity will become more useful as we accumulate genetic “markers”, so that in the future crosses can be made “blind”, with predictable results.


From the outset, our crops have been developed to produce multiple products. One of most dangerous practices of modern agriculture is the establishment of the special purpose “cash crop”; the crop with no actual local utility. Cotton is an excellent case in point. Under ideal conditions, the grower can sell the crop and make a cash income with which other needs can then be met; however “ideal conditions”, including anything from details of international trade far beyond farmer influence to drought, may collapse, leaving the farmer with a product of no value. Farmer deaths are widely documented, and even more widely claimed.

“Resilience” is the current buzzword for futurists. A major reason soybeans have been so profitable for farmers is that they have an exceptional number of alternative uses. As a basic industrial feedstock, the neohybrid hazelnuts can easily equal soybeans; but in addition produces nutshell and wood products, both with multiple product potentials.

A very abbreviated summary:

•Non-perishable commodity foods (dry nuts are less perishable than grains.)
•Protein – avg 10%; nutritionally complete
–Hazel kernel is 60% oil; the chemical twin of olive oil
–Hickory/pecan is 70% oil
–Biodiesel demonstrated
•Carbohydrate – chestnut 50%, comparable to maize
•High density nutshell (pelletize/gasify/burn, bioplastics feedstock, chemical extractives)
•Hardwood biomass (fuel, paper, OSB, lumber, etc.)

From the farmer’s standpoint, every year a crop is produced with relatively standard, simple, harvest requirements, but multiple and complex markets available. In the event one specific market becomes unavailable, another market can likely absorb the production. In the event of complete market collapse- the farmer can eat the food produced, or feed it to livestock, or use the fuel personally or in the local community. The farmer- survives any market collapse.


Tillage: we use none, following the year of establishment; current expectation is that these crops will be planted only once every 50-100 years. Actual lifetime of the trees involved is much longer; we expect field renovation may be desirable to install advanced genetics. While tillage is used in many existing orchard/vineyard crops, our design preference is for a grass/legume intercrop, managed in varying fashion, utilized for hay or animal pasture.

While these ultimate “no-till” crops are frequently cited by others as being suitable for “marginal” crop lands, we do not make that recommendation. Marginal soils are at best steep; making machine harvest and other management more expensive, and at worst dry with poor soils- meaning crop yields will also be poor. Woody crops are expensive to establish compared to annual crops; good returns are critical. The woody crops may eventually perform better than tilled crops on such soils, but marginal land is not a pathway to seriously improved food or biomass production.

Pest management: we have found that “ecosystem pest management”, the provision of diverse habitat for the maintenance of insect predators/diseases – works. We currently use no pesticides of any kind, and do not foresee a need. Besides habitat maintenance, genetic improvement of crop adaptations to pests is perpetual.

Fertilizer: yes, of course. The woody crops must establish large root systems and above-ground wood in order to function. Wild trees take decades to achieve maturity, partly because they must accumulate basic nutritional components in the very small increments normally available to unmanaged environments; a bird dropping here, nutrients from a dropped branch there. Establishing food producing crop plants in the human time frame requires considerable fertilizer inputs.

Our current belief is that providing fertilizer on the same order as that used for maize will be necessary for the first 10 years; following that, the necessary inputs decrease. Some ongoing inputs will prove necessary; to the extent nutrients are removed in harvested crops, they will inevitably have to be replaced.

Applied fertilizer does not escape into aquifers or drainages. The first infrastructure these woody crops build is a huge, permanent root system; according to actual experiment a 6 year old hazel field captures 100% of applied fertilizer.

Machine harvest is now a reality for the neohybrid hazelnuts. Machine harvest of chestnuts is done in several places around the globe, although the #1 producer, China, harvests by hand. We expect pecan harvesting machinery to be easily adaptable to the neohybrid hickory-pecans, but are only just on the point of having enough of a crop to undertake that development.

Figure 6

Animals are being integrated, and we see this as a viable direction. We utilize horses, sheep, and poultry between the aisles of the crop plants, to “mow grass”, translate legumes to crop available nitrogen, and help in crop plant management. We are attempting to calculate animal inputs and costs, for direct comparison with machine alternatives, e.g. the use of diesel powered mowers to keep grass short enough to allow harvest and discourage rodents. This is very much a work in progress, but initial results are quite promising. Even large commercial vineyards/orchards may now hire sheep and goats to do careful work, replacing fossil fuel inputs with animals.

Periodic coppice, the practice of cutting the trees or bushes to the ground on a rotating basis, is the method used to manage the removal of old wood, or wood getting too tall for best management. Hazel rotations are approximately 8-12 years; chestnut coppice can be managed on a 20-30 rotation, depending on the wood products desired. On the longer rotation, harvest may yield poles for utilities or log cabin construction, both high value products, or small dimension lumber; the shorter rotation will yield fence post, vine props, charcoal and biochar. Rotations for hickory-pecan are not established, but first experiments show very strong coppice response.


The neohybrid hazels are by far the most widely planted and tested of our crops; chestnuts next, and the hickory-pecans are only now being released to growers.

Figure 7

The map indicates numbers of our neohybrid hazels planted to date. Survival- and production; are of course different matters. As with all new crops, a number of catastrophic plantings have been made. Success, however, is also demonstrated.

In addition to the 5 universities previously mentioned, Badgersett Research has ongoing projects in cooperation with the U of Illinois St. Charles Horticultural station, Oberlin College, and our stockholders.

The original farm, outside Canton, Minnesota, is now in the process of converting from being primarily a research establishment to being the first full scale demonstration of actual integrated woody agriculture crop production.

At this point, BRC is prepared to proceed with commercialization.

Multiple scenarios for “bootstrapping” the crops to larger scale exist; one that frequently intrigues listeners is the concept of growing the hazels, entirely as an energy crop, beneath electric power transmission lines. At the moment, the cost of maintaining powerline right-of-ways is essentially a dead loss; invading trees are killed, grass is mowed; nothing is harvested- except the neighbors’ resentment. BRC is ready to spin off a subsidiary corporation, dedicated to powerline maintenance, and growing hazels beneath the lines for biodiesel and biomass fuel. The “green” publicity for the power company would be huge; the neighbors would be happier to have wildlife habitat and a wildlife corridor, with no pesticides used, actual cost to the electric company (and consumer) would be lower. When access to towers is needed for maintenance- there will be roads used for harvest, or the engineers are welcome to just drive over the bushes; they’ll recover next year. It’s just part of the cost of doing business.

The success of such a project depends on finding the right power company, with the will to experiment. We’d be glad to hear from any candidates.

Yes; Badgersett is seeking partners, and capital. And yes, you can come and see for yourself; please do.

Our Annual Field Day is just around the corner; Saturday, Aug. 18. Harvest is already underway; weeks ahead of schedule because of the heat. Please come.

We will have a crop; rain or no rain.

Figure 8

Thank you for this post Nate!

It is of course impossible to entirely present and delineate an entire paradigm in the course of one blog post. Make no mistake, we’re talking about a full paradigm shift; potentially achieving primary world food production from woody crop plants.

Any chance some of those trees could be manipulated to produce fruits that have contraceptive properties?
I still have a hard time accepting any attempt at a serious discussion of food production for the world that doesn't at least mention the population issue.

Yes, thanks nate...impeccably relevant as always....and i hear you fm....the population issue has debatably become even more untouchable than the future of nuclear energy....

In the first coming tome, on Woody Agriculture, population dynamics will constitute an entire chapter. Just not here! There's biology behind it- forest humans have different dynamics than others- a few of those aspects may apply. Maybe.

What is needed is a nut burger recipe that you can eat several times a week as a meat substitute. I presume you can store barrels of nuts in a dry cellar for many months. I take it the shells may need to be burned and crushed before they are suitable for composting. I'd also like to know the EROEI of nontropical tree nut biodiesel. Some biodeisel is just too expensive; for example hereabouts (Tasmania) biodiesel from opium poppy seed oil is said to cost $9 per litre.

There will be problems feeding a world of 9 billion people. Expensive machine fuel and NPK fertiliser will mean we can't so much farm the prairies or broadacres. I wonder if nut trees can be companion planted with root crops. For example I grow potatoes in tyre piles around a chestnut tree. Any water that passes through the tyres irrigates the chestnut. Ersatz meat and 2 veg could be a nut cutlet, some baked spuds and broccoli.

I find Falafel can be reworked into a nice 'veggieburger' meal.. and when I get any good at mixing up a decent Tahini sauce, maybe I'll just eat the Falafels as themselves..

Like all other crops, seeds from trees (not all nuts) vary dramatically in their storage requirements and nutritional make up. This is a good place to point out, there are trees (and bushes) all around the world that could be domesticated in this fashion; a favorite of mine to point out is "strawberry guava" a horrific invasive in many tropical locations. With an abundance of "poor" fruit- poor because it is jammed full of SEED - where the oil and protein are.

SOME of our hazels are incredibly resistant to spoilage; still not rancid after 3 years of common storage. Hickory-pecans; likewise, crazy variable. Chestnuts are as perishable as an apple- unless you dry it down rock hard; then it stores (and cooks) like a soup bean; or can be ground for flour.

Another chapter, or two, for the tome. :-)

In France we rarely keep fresh chesnut for long time. Longer storage require caning freezing, making it into a paste that look like peanut butter (but is more sweet) or grinding it into a flour that can be used to make bread. Wild chesnut are often infected with parasites (Cydia splendana for example) that destroy more than 50% of the crop (well, boars and deers eat them anyway). Does these parasites exist in the US?

Wild and untended nut and fruit trees suffer from parasites much more frequently than tended ones. Here in California, the native hunter-gatherer population would burn the undergrowth in oak forests every few years to keep the pests down and acorn production high. (see "Tending the Wild" by M. Kat Anderson) In this way, they achieved one of the densest hunter-gatherer populations in the world, a population which was largely sedentary. And that was with wild species - and the huge variation in crop yield from year-to-year.

The Trempealeau Hotel is not far from Badgersett Farms and has a terrific walnut burger

Thanks for the post Nate/Phil. Interesting stuff. One concern: Mast failure, quite common in our area, especially recently with our early, warm springs and later freeze ("blackberry winter"). This seems to be occurring more frequently; we've had no mast two out of three years over the last decade. That said, the years we do get nuts have been phenomenal. Perhaps I need to get a press and attempt to extract the oil, especially from the hickory nuts.

In our area, Southern Appalachians, besides the oaks, hickories and walnuts are common. Any thoughts on fast growing walnuts?

Regarding co-planting: Hazelnut trees (Filberts) are one of the species these folks are having success with growing truffles. Perhaps your hybrids would also be a suitable host for producing an additional cash crop.

One of the primary reasons I started working with chestnuts is that they do NOT "mast" crop, in the normal meaning of the word. Oaks do (temperate oaks; some tropical ones do not); and in oaks it is typical for wild acorn production to vary by as much as 2,000%, from on year to another. Wild chestnuts, by comparison, may vary only as much as 50% from year to year; orders of magnitude more stable. The neohybrid breeding path generates seedlings where "wild type" instruction sets are disrupted, allowing us to select for plants that bear every year; progress there with the hazels is quite advanced; initial variations in the hickory-pecans indicate it's possible.

When you say that Chestnuts may vary by 50% year to year is that per tree or per plantation? In other words would the overall crop, from a decent sized farm, even out year to year or would you have to take the average over a region?


What are the climatic requirements for these trees? Do they require a true winter or just a cold spell? Rainfall Ranges? It seems a good complement for a proportion of our needs. Here in Queensland Australia we have few areas with frosts every year and a reasonable rainfall.

The neohybrid genepool contains individuals with the potential for wide adaptation; the hazels are rock solid in USDA growing zones 4-6; we have folks testing them for years in 3 and 7, where they grow and bear; even 2 and 8; but I can't give definitive answers there. Some of the hazel breeding lines contain genes from the southern Mediterranean, where they do not have "true winter". Our precipitation here, including snow, is now around 28"/year; when I moved here in the mid '70s it was stated as being 32". No problems for any of the crops in that range. Wild chestnuts are rarely found in regions with less than 40"; but that may be a matter of long term forest competition, not requirements.

What a coincidence that a post of this type should pop up a day after I was on badgersett’s site looking at their hybrid hazels with an interest at growing some living fences for small livestock. I presently grow on my ten acre plot in south central illinois hybrid hazels, chestnuts, hybrid and Chinese, heartnuts and hybrids, pecans, and walnuts. My property also has some very nice hickory , white and bur oak, and black walnut trees that were on the property when I bought it. I have a large shellbark tree that has very nice nuts – if I can get them before the squirrels do.
Your pecan hickory hybrids look interesting. How long to mature? The downside to seedling trees in the hickory family is that it takes so long to produce. If not for a late frost I would have had my first crop of pecans on grafted trees.

Yes, I have thought about ordering some of these hazelnuts for my land in Indianapolis. I did have an email from a local nut grower that wasn't happy with the quality of the product being pitched here. I also had an email from another local nut grower that was happy with these hazelnuts.

The hazel nuts I presently have are either from oikos tree crops or some of the new blight resistant cultivars. The oikos precocious hazels are very vigorous.

The hickory-pecans (we use hickory first because most "look" more hickory than pecan) will average 12 years to the first nut; reducing that time is one of our top priorities. Fortunately for us, "folk-breeders" in Europe and Asia had already selected much more precocious material for the hazels and chestnuts; over the previous 10,000 years (literally). While Native Americans did some selection on pecan, there is no indication they gave any attention to precocity, so we're starting from scratch with the wild types.

What is the advantage to using bitternut hickory (cordiformis) in the genetic mix? I'm guessing none of the hickories on my property is pure as to genetic type, as I have everything from shagbarks, mockernuts, pignuts, shellbarks, and bitternuts on my property and the adjacent areas. I have two shagbark apearance trees side by side in the back of one field where one gives nice sweet small nuts and the other bitter.

To Nate, Philip A. Rutter, B L. Rutter-Daywater, and S.J. Wiegrefe:

First: Thanks for all the work and research you have put into this project!

Second: who can I talk to for help with my small hazelnut plantation? OK, it's really only two big bushes: one is a Tonda di Giffoni and the other is either a "Lewis" or a "Clark" (I forget which, but it was supposed to cross pollinate with the Tonda). These trees are 5 years old and healthy, but I have never seen a nut on them. They do get the little banana shaped seed-like clusters, but I do not remember ever seeing flowers on them either.

Can you help?

Those banana shaped things are the catkins which cast off pollen. In fact, they are forming on my bushes right now in my garden. They don’t mature until the following spring when they elongate and get "fuzzy". The flowers (stigma) are very small and red and tubular on the ends of buds – easily missed. Cross pollination is necessary.

Tonda di Giffoni is an Italian cultivar, Lewis and Clark are from Oregon State, if I am correct- where they can grow southern Mediterranean hazels. They will not grow in Minnesota; they'll freeze out. One possibility; I'm familiar with a number of cases where pure European hazels will grow vegetatively quite well- but the catkins freeze and die, long before cold damages the wood; meaning; no pollen. If your "banana shaped" things do not ever elongate (about 3-4x) in the spring, and shed pollen; that's what's going on. Basically; Missouri is continental climate; and those cultivars are from a rather warm maritime climate.

Thanks Phillip, although it's definitely not good news :-(

Maybe climate change will make Missouri more Mediterranean like? But it looks like I will be digging out my big beautiful hazel bushes and planting news ones...

So is there a list or guide or chart that shows:
a) which hazels are appropriate for which states or zones?
b) also which cultivars cross breed with each other?

Had some time to research this morning, and answered many of my own questions.

I'm a bit angry at myself for not researching better 5 years ago, and angry at the nursery for selling me hazelnut cultivars that had no hope of succeeding in my zone.

What I found is that the European breeds (like I planted) only produce in the Oregon area. For the rest of the US you need the North American breeds.

Badgersett sums up the info well here: http://www.badgersett.com/info/hazelnuts/hazel2.html

Hardiness zone: Absolutely cold-hardy anywhere in growing zones 4 and 5, do well in 6, and very reasonable to try in zone 3. See the National Arbor Day Foundation's zone map. Also worth trying in zones 7-9; excellent performance of warm zone 6 plantings suggest that zone 7 is very reasonable to try. Our genetics do not include southern wild C. americana sources, so in warmer climates we expect increasing numbers (e.g. perhaps half in some zone 8 regions) to NOT do very well, likely experiencing problems with early dormancy break, pollination timing, and possibly lack of tolerance for prolonged high heat. We DO expect at least some of our plants to do well in these regions anyway. Other nurseries are likely to tell you that their (also northern) hazels will all do just super in warmer climes; we are a little more cautious.

So I'll be buying some hazels from them.

I am not looking forward to digging out these big european hazels. Anybody know how difficult it is to remove a 5 year old hazel bush?

Interesting that in order to begin talking about the oh-so-superior woody plants, the author is compelled to denigrate the corporate structure and imagined lack of results growing out of the Land Institute. This author's extraordinary claim regarding Land Institute projects, "No farmers are growing any, anywhere..." demands evidence.

Apparently, given the combative stance of the author, we are advised to replace grass crops with trees. Seriously? Hazel nuts instead of wheat, pecans over corn?

"Combative stance of author"? Huh?

Ill let Phil respond to the rest of your comment but I will chip in that the reason I believe SOME areas (from basically zero starting point) should be planted with woody agriculture is for diversification - reduction of standard deviation from all sorts of events and therefore smoother annual protein/carb/fuel output. A portfolio of crops per se instead of just three. Plus hazels can be planted on marginal land. There is no one solution for future energy/food needs, not even perennial grasses (though that would be great).

**Edit - in all honesty I missed the first 3 paragraphs of this post when submitting it, where Land Institute is referenced, hence my confusion at your response. Wes Jackson is a good friend and a great man and I think what Land Institute is doing is very important. Not sure woody ag/perennial grains are an either/or issue but it seems there may be some politics involved here. Quelle surprise. I'll bow out of discussion wishing research and practical success to both ideas.

Someone appears miffed; and far from denigrating anyone's corporate structure, you might take note that I launched a successful 501(c)3 myself, and am quite proud of it. I do note that corporations function differently.

As for "No farmers are growing any, anywhere..." demands evidence."

Sorry, I cannot list all the farmers not growing CROPS from the Land Institute. Can you identify ANY "farmers' who are? Crops?

Condescend much? Far from being miffed - an emotional response - I'm being autistically logical in noting that your article above begins by denigrating the work of The Land Institute, something that you have neither defended nor retracted as yet. Further, your "No farmers..." assertion requires just one instance to be dis-proven; a tenuous position at best. I've never visited TLI but as it's only nine miles straight west from my present location, perhaps I'll stop by one day for a starter pack of perennial wheat. Been meaning to do that for quite some time.... Finally, I learned the I'm-rubber-you're-glue debate technique in elementary school.

Suggestion: acknowledge that your group is different from TLI, with different structures, goals and techniques for achieving said goals. The universe of people working on perennial agriculture is small enough without internecine sniping in obscure venues. As George Herbert Walker Bush once said, "I have spoken of a thousand points of light, of all the community organizations that are spread like stars throughout the Nation, doing good."

I'm a big fan of the Land Institute, but it is in fact true that their systems are not yet in commercial production. In fact I recently interviewed Land Institute breeder David Van Tassel, who confirms that they are now undergoing their first field trial at a 30-acre scale. The crop is intermediate wheatgrass, which is yielding about 350 pounds per acre but can also be grazed, giving it an additional productive benefit. The Land Institute has the disadvantage compared to Badgersett of starting with crops that are not yet remotely productive on the scale of chestnuts and hazels. I published the results of this interview in my recent article titled Perennial Staple Crops of the World in the Permaculture Activist, and you can read the article at www.perennialsolutions.org under "perennial farming systems". I'm preparing a version of this article for peer review with the grad student at present. The article reviews most of the worlds most promising perennial edible oil, carbohydrate, and protein crops, from those that are ready for prime time to those that are under development.

I'm a fan of both approaches and both entities, and I feel they have excellent complementary potential. In particular, the Land Institute's crops are much more drought tolerant and perhaps more appropriate for the “treeless plains” than woody agriculture.

I attended Badgersetts woody agriculture short course a few years ago and was absolutely impressed by their production model, the depth and breadth of their research, and particularly their ingenious breeding program, which strongly parallels Raul Robinson's Return to Resistance horizontal breeding model, but I must say surpasses it in several very promising aspects.

Well don't be shy- I'd appreciate either someone sponsoring your paper as an article here when it comes out, or at least seeing a reference to it in the drumbeat!


A couple of points:
1) There are going to be places currently in agriculture, which are historically climactic prairie due to lower rainfall, where woody crops will not thrive unless they are irrigated. As Dad mentions somewhere in the comments here, the savannah-adapted hazels are capable of pushing farther into the dry areas than you would expect forests to go. Also, bushes and trees are capable of increasing water retention once established, and even local rainfall can be affected. However, there will be limits.
Due to this, I do think that it makes plenty of sense to work on non-woody perennial crops. There are many places where and I'm pleased that the Land Institute is working on that. They are making progress. They have also done a seriously good job of publication and outreach, which is why they are mentioned in this posting.

2) Yes, from energetic and ecological standpoints it will be better to conduct agriculture with trees and bushes where climactically appropriate. They do need to be domesticated versions, of course– REALLY domesticated. This is touched on to some extent above, and further in the short course intro video, about a third of the way in. A full introduction to what exactly that means and how we're doing it takes about 2 1/2 hours of the short course, I think. And it will take at least two chapters of the first book we need to write.

3) Having worked on Woody Ag for as long and as hard (and with as little resources) as he has, Dad has limited remaining patience for less-ready alternatives being sold as hard as they sometimes are, particularly when they are at odds with our efforts. It can be pretty hard to swallow. Though I'm glad they're doing the work they are, and I am a supporting member, I feel like the Land Institute has sometimes been in this category.
The statements about the readiness of Woody Ag NOW vs. perennial wheatgrass (etc.) that both PAR (my father) and toensmeier have made in the comments hold plenty of water. Before posting this, I tried to find any description of any farmer growing Land Institute materials for sale to market, and could not. I was satisfied that if it was happening, there would have been some accessible announcement. Dad does not always go out of his way to be nice about pointing these things out, because if you're too nice or vague about it people have a tendency to skirt around the issue. We need it to sink in and take root.

even local rainfall can be affected

And how.


'scuse the Google Images link, the full version in context is behind Wiley's paywall:


Also, bushes and trees are capable of increasing water retention once established, and even local rainfall can be affected

Where I live, south central Illinois, many farmers are tearing out treelines so they can plant a few more rows of beans/corn/wheat. Then they usually burn the trees in one big pile. Many of these trees are large oaks and hickories planted during the 30's and 40's as windbreaks. Now with a major drought going on these trees would help in retaining moisture and preventing erosion in the gullies. These farmers believe trees STEAL moisture from their precious crops. The rural "brain drain", where the college graduate leaves home and the mediocre stay on the farm is very much in evidence here.

particularly when they are at odds with our efforts

This sounds ominous. Has The Land Institute been successful in direct competition for money or status?

Thanks Nate----
Woody Perennials seem a logical choice.
Perennial Grasses? Great for sequestering carbon, and feeding ungulates, but a marginally healthy food source.

We have 7 billion people on the planet because Haber and Borlaug were able to turn fossil fuels into cheap grains.

I have walnuts, pears, apricots, blackberries and plums.

Nuts are a very good food, but in the UK at least an ever increasing fraction of the population claims to have nut allergy. A small fraction do have violent reaction to peanuts and other nuts. All nut products are banned in most schools, from school canteens and children's packed lunches and snacks. This must significantly reduce the market for nuts, and if childern learn nuts = bad at a young age, at least in the UK, they will pass this down the generations.

The US too. I think gut flora research may make some inroads to this problem.

Current research I've read in Science News seems to suspect that aside of those with real genetic difficulties, the increased incidence of allergy is largely due to society withholding exposure to these foods from infants and toddlers when the immune system is still sampling the environment to learn what's foreign and what's food...I hear those who grew up in a house that was 'too' clean have the same issues to a greater extent with dust & pollen...

Sorry for the absence of links- at work, but I'm sure it's googlable.


No question but that nut allergies are serious; but it's worth noting that allergies for wheat and soy are also increasing; the phenomenon is not well understood.

In a public tasting, as I was offering Badgersett hazels to "foodies", I was astonished and delighted to find that persons with any kind of nut allergy instantly asked "what's that?" before tasting; we had no bad experiences. These were all adults, of course; but evidently persons with allergies learn well what to avoid.

On the upside; chestnut is a gluten-free complex carb source; sought out by those folks, but generally too expensive so far for much use. Chestnut flour is widely used in European pastry.

I have multiple nut* allergies, which come from my mother's genetic input. She has much worse allergies and from a much wider array of plant foods. Both of us tolerate hazels with no (me) to extremely limited (my mother) reactions.This may be because hazels are closer related to oaks than pecans. Oak nuts produce no allergic reaction in either of us, but pecans are deadly to her and give me enough trouble that I never eat them.

Keep in mind that an awful lot of the annual grains that are grown today are fed to livestock. Even if we just feed chestnuts and hazels to hogs and poultry, you will be making a major environmental impact. It does seem an awful shame to feed such delicious food to animals, but this is one way to get around issues of food allergies and broadscale adoption of new crops.

Why don’t we already get our crops from trees, if this is such a good idea? That is the quintessential question faced by every innovator since time began; and it is a question known to rarely have merit.

I'd quibble with that - it's a reasonable question. There are indeed many good innovations, but there are a lot of bad innovations that have been tried and failed (sometimes many times).

Good innovations have answers to the question, and bad ones don't, but the question needs an answer.

I confess, I've asked that question of knuckleheaded inventors myself, once or twice. :-) Hoping to point something specifically stupid out. For one specific, and I'm not making this up, there was the guy applying for a patent on a wind generator to be mounted on his car- to make energy to actually be stored in batteries and provide motive power to the car. Oy.

But- I think it's also a matter of history that the most brilliant inventions, and inventors, have also been plagued with this question, when it had no reason or traction beyond "this is the way it's always been done; how dare you suggest a change."

You're right; it needs to be addressed at some point, which is why I do link to that list of incorrect assumptions; again; this IS a chapter, in the "coming tome'. If you can fight your way through the long slow video, I do go into detail on "why we grow grains" - my own quite unsupported speculations; probably untestable. But fun.

One of the reasons given in the youtube movie is that trees are a long-term investment: the first few years the return on investment is zero. Hunter-gatherers need to move around and can't take trees with them. During the middle ages, farmers often didn't own the land and had little certainty they could use the same plot of land for extended periods of time. Therefore treegrowing is at a disadvantage to yearly crops.

I remember reading somewhere that another reason is that breeding trees takes much longer than breeding yearly crops, because it takes several years before a tree has offspring.

The farmers not owning their land still applies; I have worked in the chestnut groves in China, and in the late 80's that was cited as a reason for why the farmers sometimes took very little care of their chestnut groves- they had no faith they would reap the rewards of their work.

The long breeding time thing is that most durable of falsehoods; the half-truth. I can get viable pollen from chestnut seedlings within 5 weeks of the germination of the seed. But- actually for both woody and annual crops, what takes years in the production of new varieties is NOT the generation time, but the "testing". Any new wheat or oat variety must be grown in the field under a wide variety of conditions; wet, dry, soil variations, disease pressure variations- before it can be recommended.

The same is true for the woodies; it takes years, in either case. Longer for the woodies- yes; and I think that will always be true; we think the potential benefits will balance that out, in time.

That IS one reason "it hasn't been done" - the testing time is generally outside the "3 year grant cycle" typical in academic institutions. It's difficult to do your PhD when you're looking at a 5-7-10 year project. Most orchard crop breeding is done in institutions insulated from standard academia, and by professionals past the PhD thesis.

I think the main reason is effort to grow, which leads to price. Just go to a supermarket and look how much grains and nuts cost per pound/kilo: the cheapest nuts will be about 10 times more expensive than the cheapest grains, even if you take the higher energy content into account.

Chestnuts, Olives, Carpathian Walnuts all have a long history of commercial production. (The others such as black walnuts haven't much history yet in domestication. They are seeing rapid increases in planted acres albeit from a small base in the US.) Even the long time to maturity for selection purposes can overcome. Scion wood can be cut from seedlings in the spring and grafted onto mature (nurse) trees. This will give mature tree harvest characteristics in four years. It also allows for the rapid grouping of improved stock into close proximity for cross breeding (since they can be on the same tree).

I've used the same technique on fruit trees such as apple but with bud grafts in late summer. Can bud grafting be done on nuts?

As presented, this method looks promising as a financial investment and may in fact bear some success. But regarding Sustainability, the differences aren't that much to existing industrial agricultural practices. The simply fact that the authors themselves distanced the method from Permaculture is very telling. Mining 100 tones of stone to extract 1 ton of Phosphorus is not a sustainable activity in any planet.

Well, we disagree, and I'd invite you to look further. Industrial agriculture requires tillage annually; we require no tillage ever; except the first year of establishment.

Industrial ag uses herbicides, insecticides, rodenticides, fungicides- we use none. We do currently use standard fertilizer; but have demonstrated that needs drop as the plantings reach maturity; and we're currently finding that planting legumes (e.g. white clover) between woody rows, and having poultry graze the clover (oh, yes they do!) is causing us to further cut N inputs.

In the long run; nutrient balances will have to be worked out; but we are already very far more sustainable than industrial ag. For long term sustainability, ash from burned wood products should be returned to the field producing it; something the biomass industry is already aware of, and wrestling with.

Are there any studies of soil condition in the woody perennial field compared to regular agricultural feilds, chemical no-till, natural forrests etc?

I imagine the absence of xxxx-cides would result in healthier soil, but with all that fertilizer being absorded by the tree roots does it look like an old forrest or is it something totally new and different?

Have any of the fields gotten to the point where you can say anything about the effect the de-composition of last generation's roots will have on the next generation of planting?

In the long run; nutrient balances will have to be worked out;

Rock phosphate supplies could become an issue on a time scale of a few decades. That's not a very long run. We need to be working right now on developing food production systems which recycle nutrients from human food and from any harvest of woody plant parts. Tree crops, of course, may play an important part in such food/fuel systems, but I don't think that such a development can be done in the context of for profit enterprises within the current economic paradigm.

You say tillage is only required for the initial planting. So how are application of fertilizer made? Do you just dump it on the ground and it heads down for the roots?

"Do you just dump it on the ground and it heads down for the roots?"

We do, in fact, when we can. But we use a side-throwing broadcaster in- late October. So it has all winter to filter down- where we know for a fact (yes, unpublished) that the hazel roots are quite active, and most grasses are not. Specific data; 1 year after application of 200 lbs N/acre equivalent; N at 6" was 20-30 ppm; at 12" depth, 3 ppm; at 18" depth; 0 ppm. It was all captured.

Application can be done all year; but there are many more ways to lose it than over our cold winter; urea will just volatilize if it gets too hot on the surface, or actively growing weeds will grab it near the surface, before the deep hazel roots get a chance.

If you'll pick up a professional corn grower's magazine (they exist) you'll find they are still arguing hard about exactly when and how to apply fertilizer; in spite of about 100 orders of magnitude more crop experience and research than we have. Keep in mind- this is a crop with very little background; we find that data from the world hazelnut industry rarely transfers to these hazels; both climate and genetics are radically different.

One source for phosphate, and potash, that we have had recommended is- hog manure. They have a surplus. Not that we hope that situation will continue. :-)

"One source for phosphate, and potash, that we have had recommended is- hog manure. They have a surplus."

Precisely. The only solution to declining rock phosphate to me seems to be better management of green & brown wastes. There's no magic crop that's going to remove the requirement for phosphate, we just need to bloody start recycling it like God intended ;) Doesn't do a whole #ell of a lot of good down there in the delta(s)...

Got a rockin' humanure + chikmanure + yard waste + veggie waste + sawdust pile running out back. You can grow anything on that stuff. Kinda high water use to keep it cookin' in my neck of the woods, but people gotta eat (hence the cistern). I tried to garden for years in my 20's the home depot way with NHxPOy and a pickax in the hardpan - no joy. Now I add a little manure with something to hold water and air in the soil and we're off to the races. Did I mention it's free for most of us? Far east had that one figured a long time ago...


Excellent work, thank you! There seems to be tremendous upside. The biggest challenge it seems is time - decadal scales to develop a large operations.

I am also very impressed with the flexibility of market options from local to global. That you have utilized selection by humans over the entire Holocene is in stark contrast to the GMO paradigm.

No question, the time scale is seen as a problem- particularly, by banks.

However- we're finding as we progress that the very word "sustainable" seems to also carry a burden of "slow". Whatever the process, whatever the realm; practices that are "non-corrosive" (my own choice of words, pre-dating "sustainable") to the environment seem to be, per-se, slower both in establishment and yield, than "current practice".

The benefits, we hope, will argue the case. In time. :-)

While the concept(s) being put forth by the authors is solid and makes perfect sense, some of the specifics are seriously lacking and some of the claims terribly misleading. For instance, a few minutes on the web and one can find out that Oregon State University has been the center of hazelnut research and production information since before the 1950's. It appears the U of M and U of WI are partners in a project called Upper Midwest Hazelnut Development Initiative that is not even remotely moving towards "swarm breeding". Likewise a quick search shows that Rutgers and U of Nebraska are partners on the hybrid hazelnut consortium to breed better hazelnuts and commercialize them. The notion that these universities are "following BRC lead" is laughable.

Equally misleading is that in the midst of the drought affecting the midwest the authors claim

"Our neohybrid hazels, growing under the same conditions which have destroyed neighboring corn fields, are nearly unaffected- except they are ripening their seed crop ahead of schedule. Experience in a similar drought in 1988 showed they could bear the crop, and also bear their crop in the next year."

Again, a quick review of some of the materials on the Universities websites indicate that virtually no agronomic info exists and no long term trials have been completed. Combined with the fact that the "hybrid swarm" concept being advocated by default must mean less uniformity I can only wonder how such a claim can be made with any degree of accuracy, of course observation can be useful but hardly the basis for such a claim.

Again while the concept of trees crops, perennial crops, agro-forestry crops whatever one wants to call is sound and worthy of further research it appears from this post that self promotion is the main goal here. Especially revealing is the appeal for partners and capital. One can only wonder if these public universities are putting money into the tree crops and BRC has all these years of experience why aren't they a partner? Time to do a little more digging.

Yes, whilst this is an interesting article, I'm not tempted to put my money into hybrid hazelnuts. Figure 4 says that rapeseed only gives 0.6 tonne/hectare of usable oil, but even in the North of Scotland we get yields of around 3.5 tonnes/hectare, which means something like 1.5 tonnes of rapeseed oil/hectare, i.e better than those Illinois hybrid hazels.

As for the timber you get from hazel coppicing, it's worth next to nothing in the UK, and I doubt the market in the USA will be any better.

Glad you pointed out the OSR number. I believe the EROEI with high yields like these can even be as high as 4:1 depending somewhat on the N fertilizer calculation. Very limited total crop in Scotland, however,(OSR must be part of a crop rotation) and not very significant if we look for diesel replacement, i.e. about 6% of present Scottish diesel demand if all the possible OSR crop area was used for biodiesel, according to an official Scottish Colleges study.

Southern England grows very valuable chestnut long lasting timber crops. Nuts not worth it, though. www.confor.org.uk/Upload/Documents/33_sweetchestnut0306.doc

I thought the fact that the Castanea in the UK was brought there by the Romans was more definitely proven than that article indicates; pollen records, back that up. There's no indication they were fussy about what genes they imported, and the trees have been evolving back to "wild type" in the UK pretty much ever since. The Romans may have wanted chestnut coppice wood for grape and hop stakes, tannin, and charcoal primarily. I think worth while nut crops are just waiting to happen; in France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal (and many more) the chestnut nut crops come from sub-populations selected certainly over thousands of years, which differ greatly from the wild chestnuts still present in their forests. The "folk selection" thus performed was one of our starting points for our own gene pools; they made very significant progress and contributions.

I have looked at studies on agroforestry done in Europe some years ago and while it is a usefull concept there are some limitation. The yield is not that much higher as noted by Scottish-forester but there are usefull side benefit like the reduction of soil losses (and soil stabilization) that makes it great for some area. The harvested wood by coppicing is not worth much except if you can use it locally (burning or cheap fence for example). As a child, I used to make bows and arrows with it.
Note than in Europe, walnut is being grown in large scale, specially near were I lives with the "Grenoble walnut". Yield can reach 5 tonnes/hectare but is usually around 3 while hazelnuts give lower yield (around 2 tonnes/hectares). The shells can be be burned to help extract the oil from the nuts or for heating (like wood pellet).
Maybe you should also look at the chinese tallow tree that has become invasive in southern US. Its seed produce wax (used for candle but can be turned into biofuel), a non edible oil (biofuel) and edible protein meal; It also produce good quality wood and grow fast... in some area of southern US it represent 25% of the trees, so it might as well be used.
Here is a link to agroforestry research done in France

You are correct that yields measured in agroforestry studies are not impressive. As noted in the post; we find that is a matter of relying on wild-type genetics, rather than advanced genotypes. Indeed; wild trees are not in the business of making anything for human purposes, neither food nor even fiber. They are first, last, and always in the business of survival. Most trees only need to actually reproduce ONCE, in 200 years, to be an evolutionary success.

My metaphor; Looking to wild trees for food crops would be exactly the same thing as: going to the bank to borrow money to build a state-of-the-art dairy operation; complete with individualized computer-regulated feeding (this is done now; the ear-tag identifies the cow; the machine dispenses exact feed for that animal); mechanized manure handling, all bells and whistles possible; and then stocking your state-of-the-art dairy with - wolves, for dairy production.

You can, in fact, get milk from a wolf; but you are never going to pay the bank back.

Agricultural production requires true domestication; which is why we developed the neohybrid process. Maize; is domesticated; apples and grapes, in my own opinion; are not. Another chapter in the tome.

A big part of the disparity for your numbers and mine is; mine are intended to be representative of world production; from UN FAOSTAT production. Neither the highest, nor the lowest. I actually tried making a graphic that showed "European Avg", vs. "World", vs "North American Avg" - but the thing was stupefying to look at, and I gave it up. I have no doubt your numbers are accurate.

My numbers do not include the top possibilities; except for that one for Malaysian hybrid palm oil.

And; my numbers were from 2002; I would also guess there have been improvements in oilseed rape in the meantime.

There are numbers all over the place in term of yield and it is difficult to compare when technical details and methodology are not provided. For walnut, the yield can be for the whole nut or just the kernel (about 50% of the nut in weight).
Chesnuts are really great trees since they can provide decent burning and construction wood, are good source of pollen for honey production and gives high yield. In my area north of Lyon (Beaujolais) the soil is rich alkaline and rich in chalk which is counter-indicated for chesnut trees that like acidic and sandy soil. Indeed there are not wild chesnut in my area while there are a lot of wild walnut trees which is why I'm interested in those. I'm trying to buy some land and will definitively include some nut trees of a kind or another. Did you get chesnut trees that can stand alkaline/calcareous soil?

You are clearly familiar with the limitations of the reporting! It's frustrating.

You're also 100% correct about chestnuts and calcareous soils; I've done a little first hand work which confirms the old statements; you won't find wild chestnut stands on soils derived from limestones. In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we found a border area; on the granitic side, old chestnut sprouts were everywhere. Where the trail crossed the geologic border- a very few chestnut sprouts were found on the calcareous side, for about 30 feet- and then; zero.

However; Badgersett Farm is at the geological junction of the St Peter sandstone (above) and the Oneota dolomite (below). We planted chestnuts where we thought the loess soils were deep or over sandstone. But- the first time we dug a 6 foot deep hole in Row H; to plant a raptor-roost pole- we hit dolomite about 5 feet down. The strata are not as flat as advertised. The chestnuts do "ok" there anyhow; though none of the trees in that row have ever qualified as "outstanding". Which could be for many reasons. A recommendation from other chestnut growers is: if you have a calcareous soil; try giving the chestnuts additional nitrogen fertilizer; it's possible the major limiting factor is just that under higher pH soils, the chestnuts are less able to compete for the N; if it's more abundant, they'll do ok. Maybe.

" Time to do a little more digging."

An excellent idea- for those seriously interested, we suggest you come and see.

Most of the lead researchers for those 5 universities DID; personally visit Badgersett; spending many hours and sometimes days- years before they began their own "hybrid" hazelnut programs- specifically for regions outside the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Which is were all Oregon State work has been focused, until the Consortium. The Nebraska hazelnut germplasm is still largely originally from Badgersett. (The two lead researchers who did not - spent hours on the phone, or came and took our 2 day short course.)

Check the time lines. Yes, the researcher visits are documented, though this is hardly the place; just trying to get the idea out and about. And yes, as Nate observed above; "apparently there's politics involved..." You are unfamiliar with university politics, I assume? :-)

We're delighted to have you dig; but be aware that all information is filtered; your digging will eventually reveal to you that Oregon State hazel research, for example is funded by... the Oregon hazel industry. Which has a Federal Marketing Order in place- to limit hazel production, and keep their profits stable. They have not been enthusiastic about new competition...

We recommend that you see with your own eyes. Come and see, dig all you like; but a little deeper than "a few minutes", please..

Have you tried butternuts-juglans cinerea- for the oil content?

There are limits to how far we can sensibly stretch, in one lifetime. :-)

You'll find a few butternut comments on our website, and we sell them when we can; but we do not have a breeding program for them. That would be quite possible to do; butternut crosses easily with Japanese walnut (heartnut), and the hybrids, rarely well defined, are widely available from enthusiasts. And they are definitely interesting.

There are 2 diseases of great concern for any larger use, however; "butternut canker"
http://www.badgersett.com/info/publications/Bulletin8v1_0.pdf and now the "thousand cankers" disease; which usually does not attack walnuts from the butternut subgenus; but hybrids will be questionable until tested.

We had specific criteria for selecting hazel and chestnut to work on; walnut did not meet them. The hickory-pecan group scored a little better than walnuts. Another chapter...

Very excited to read about this... seems like another viable, profitable business model to fight global warming that I've written about here.

I'd love to buy a few tubelings, perhaps one of each, to try growing them in my back yard. However, you have a $75 order minimum. Is there another way for me to buy several tubelings, preferably online?

The National Arbor Day Foundation has a hazelnut project. Three bushes will be sent to you for twenty dollars.

PAR, how do your cultivars compare to the ones from The National Arbor Day Foundation? There seems to be some overlap with the research groups.

The great majority of hazels there are directly from Badgersett genetics- but from our genetics 20 years ago. The entire planting outside the Lied Conference center came from us. I'm not familiar with their current directions- they decided to work only with the University of Nebraska after we got the field established; they do not follow our recommendations on genetics. There was already a comment up above about "university politics." :-/

So, what about my previous comment, buying several tubelings online? Any resellers let you do that?

Interesting. 12 years ago I planted a few wild California Hazelnut seeds (Corylus cornuta var. californica) and this year one finally set some nuts! They're hardly trees, more like bushes and I can't wait to taste them this fall.

Where I live in Northern California, the soil isn't very suitable for row crops. There's little flat land and most of it it is full of stones and gravel. In the early 1900s, though, somebody invented Blue Lakes green beans and for a couple of decades they grew on our soil and there were even two canneries for them.

Most of the ag here is woody crops — pears, walnuts, almonds and wine grapes. The ratio of those vary over time and currently the wine grapes have replaced pears as the top crop by acreage. The Indians here never did agriculture. They lived on acorns and fish. They had one of the very few permanent settlements in history that was maintained without agriculture.

I don't consider using food trees for biomass a very good idea because those lost nutrients and organic matter need to be replaced with fertilizer of some sort. Some growers here pile up their prunings and burn them. Not smart in the long run. I could see wood being used around the farm for heat, etc. But commercially? Doesn't make sense. Fertilizer = energy.

Hazelnuts fetch a lot of money and if one had an outlet to sell them at list price, a farmer's market say, then that would be great compared to the paltry value of biomass.

There's an organic walnut grower east of me in the Central Valley and they're so keyed into fertility that they chip up their prunings and walnet shells and put them back onto the soil. They also have a walnut shelling business for other farmers and use those extra shells to generate electricity. They've spent a lot of effort developing the right cover crops to keep/increase their soil fertility.

I too would mention that marginal land is often marginal because of rock content, not dryness or steepness. That is why the local orchards are where they are. Drop a plow and you'll break it. Where they were particularly stubborn, there are huge rockpiles between the fields, or at the corners, or anywhere else they could dump rocks.

Trees have a lot less trouble with rocks than grains.

I'd be very interested to hear what your California hazels taste liked. The real taxonomic status of that group is in some question; a few folks would like to consider it a full species, though clearly allied to cornuta, not americana.

When my sons and I were collecting wild hazel germplasm in Canada in 1994, the local folks swore that their wild beaked hazels tasted far better than any hazel in a store; there could be many reasons for that, but genetics is my best guess. No particular reason that the different species should taste identical; on the contrary.

One warning- the VAST MAJORITY of new hazel growers see their nuts developing, and ripening; and watch them very very carefully- until they are all gone off the bush.

Mice and bluejays jump on hazels the instant they show signs of ripeness (squirrels and chipmunks BEFORE then) - so you need to pick them before the critters; particularly on isolated bushes or plantings of just a few, where the animals can concentrate. This is a skill you can learn; we have hints here: http://weblogs.eos.net/WoodyAg/Stories/ there are 2 bits on "determining ripeness". In general; there is a 2 week window where YOU can pick the nuts; before the critters do. But you have to jump before the bluejays- they will not forget.

I've been growing the native 'california hazel' C. cornuta for 25 years as restoration plant at our nursery. We have a small seed producing orchard of about 1/2 acre about 15 years old now producing 260 lbs of nuts per year. A neighbor with a similar size orchard and cultivated filbert varieties harvests 1000 to 2000 lbs of nuts per year.

When planting our orchard we over planted 100% and culled out the trees that did not bear nuts. Native nut trees have not been preselected for prolific production. For quality the native nut is tasty but the shells are very thick and the nuts small. This is wildlife food, not a human food product because of nut features and productivity.

Harvest by picking filberts from the tree is very labor intensive. The pods are extremely prickly and gloves are required. Our neighbor discourages jays and squirrels with decoys and winds up sharing. He picks the nuts after they shatter from the husks and fall to the ground with rake or customers 'upick'.

The claim then is 5000 lbs/acre-year and 8800 btu/lb that is 44e6 btu/acre-year for the best woody agriculture, as compared with corn ethanol at 25e6 to 32e6 btu/acre-year (i.e. 330 to 420 gallons-ethanol/acre-year)? Is that correct? Other advantages over corn would be, what, better resilience than corn to adverse growing conditions? Does 'woody' thrive out on the American Great Plains climate and soils the way the grasses do, naturally?

I think your numbers are quite correct, but I'm going to ask my son Dr. Brandon to do the checking; he's our top mathematician. Plus, don't forget; the food from the hazels is not included in that number; but IS for the corn.

Yes, dramatically better resilience. Right now we have close neighbors with devastated corn (not all; it depended on exact corn planting date; earlier corn was well enough established to survive the drought, though pollination was still problematic) but- many of our hazels are not only finishing ripening their heavy crop, but are still actively and rapidly putting out new shoots and leaves at the same time; typically woody plants under any real drought stress quit that process immediately. Come and see! :-)

As for thriving on the Great Plains; "maybe". One of the reasons for the structure of the hybrid swarm is that American hazel was a component of the "oak hazel savanna"; a fire regulated ecosystem with oaks and hazel clumps scattered through open prairie. Only the burr oak and hazel were able to withstand the extreme simultaneous pressures of fire, dry climate (it's transitional between forests and climatic prairies) and direct competition with prairie sod- which will kill most woody plants. The hazels can compete. We think there are many Great Plains situations where they may need irrigation for the first few years to get established; but then could function without. They certainly thrive in Nebraska City. :-) But there will be limits.

Wind storm is a major problem for some wood crops like apple or cherry tree, specially after heavy rain when the whole tree can become unrooted. Hazelnuts are rather small and flexible so should not be too much affected.

We actually have abundant direct experiences with extreme wind and these woody crops. Last year- we were hit with a tornado. We lost a couple apple trees, it snapped off full grown oaks, maples and wild hickories; but damage to the hazels was nil, damage to the chestnuts was limited to about 10 broken branches. I've watched massive chestnut crops come through heavy winds- and the truth is, I'm at a complete loss to explain why they don't break the tree. But the fact is; breakage has been rare.

One extreme hazel story; our friend Tom Wahl from Wapello Iowa watched his hazels come through what was probably a "downburst"; turbulent winds that actually lay the bushes flat on the ground during the storm. Estimated winds around 100 mph? After the winds- the bushes got back up- but the nut crop did not; that took the nuts off the bushes.

Experience with hail; hail storms that completely destroyed near by commercial vegetable operations, CSAs; did some leaf damage to hazels; but did not take developing nut clusters off.

Nothing is totally safe from Nature in a really bad mood!

Hi Falstaff. Yes, those numbers look about right for mid-high _projected_ dry hazel shell vs. mid-high corn ethanol. However, a more direct comparison of unrefined corn vs. shell would be at direct burning of corn at 8000 btu/lb at zero moisture, yielding around 61e6 btu/acre (with 160 bu/acre corn and high-quality 56 lb/bu corn, discounting for 14% moisture). Of course if we're going for unrefined, we'll need to throw in the energy numbers for whole nuts rather than just the shell; all that oil packs a punch. We had some recent analysis give 9600 btu/lb for whole zero-moisture hazels, which gives about 74e6 btu/acre direct burning for that same mid-high hazelnut projection in Figure 1 above, presuming that the "dry" kernel and shell numbers given above are actually at about 4% moisture, the standard for dry hazel storage.

Other comments are correct in that the shell is a completely non-food harvest fraction, and therefore a bit of an economically different thing from burning corn directly.

Regarding woody vs. grasses, I will try to make my own comments in that regard in one of the threads involving the Land Institute and/or climactic limitations.

Another cash crop you could add is honeybees/honey. Don't know if your trees require pollinators, but the bees would like the clover.

Absolutely. We already experimented there a little. Hazels and hickories are "strictly" wind pollinated; though many insects will eat the pollen while providing no fertilization services. Chestnut is both wind and insect pollinated, and chestnut honey from Tuscany is reputed to be the most expensive honey on the planet; dark, with a "clean bitter" aspect, alleged to be perfect as an accompaniment to Gorgonzola cheese.

We collaborated with one of Minnesota's top artisanal honey producers, Brian from Ames Farm (look them up on Facebook). He kept hives here for 3 years, I think, eventually producing what was definitely chestnut honey, identified by the pollen in it- and it didn't resemble Tuscan chestnut honey at all. But we got honey. We had to give up the collaboration when- the price of gas jumped; Brian could just no longer afford the trip from his base outside the Twin Cities.

We have abundant bee pasture- just currently no time; and our woody crops don't need bee pollination; which is not an accident. We love bees- but they're a weak link in crop production; one more way a crop can fail from time to time.

I definitely agree with other posters that our food production debates, as this stage, is probably most relevant when under taken in the context of the population issue. Also, a minor point in the article, but I definitely feel your pain on the 'neologism' front.

a big thanks to those doing this work

i have always thought hazelnuts are a good choice for soil conservation and a benefit to the wildlife we so often push to the margins. i see so many areas that could benefit from simple tree/bush planting. i've often thought we need to bring back the "conservation corps" for a while in the US to pull out invasives and plant woody natives (or even well-naturalized imports or hybrids in some cases)

i have six american hazelnuts planted in my side yard.

at some point, i'll find room for a few hybrids...

i also think a man with an orchard and a garden is wealthy :-)

Hi Folks,

And for those interested in Forest Farming, the polycultural version of 'woody' agriculture, check out Robert Hart's Forest Gardening and Austrian Rebel Farmer Sepp Holzer.


One of the very great advantages of woody perennials is their systems 'malleability'- the same, or similar genetics, can be adapted to many different specific needs for many kinds of growers. Those references are great examples; I'll add this one, from Eric Toensmeier:
"Edible Forest Gardens" (sorry no link; google will find it instantly) Full disclosure for the cranky-pants out there, yes, Eric is a friend, and knows us well.

This post focuses on the potential for woody agriculture to actually have an impact on large-scale agriculture; but we also pay plenty of attention to the needs of small holders. Badgersett Farm definitely qualifies as a small holding at this point, though our Illinois expansion plantings are designed to illustrate large scale practices. Both are feasible; and much in-between.

Check out the following related essays:

An Agriculture that Stands a Chance, http://www.energybulletin.net/...
The Perennial Imperative, http://www.energybulletin.net/...
Planting Our Perennial Future, http://www.energybulletin.net/...
Resilience or Death, http://www.energybulletin.net/...

We have the opportunity here to make a monumental change in the 10,000-yr old ecological scourge of human agriculture. ...So let's do it!

I would definitely consider clover between rows; my great-grandfather did that in his orange groves. He also tried planting at a closer-than-standard row spacing and reported increased yields (don't recall details, will need to consult his memoirs). One advantage of the clover and the closer (more shaded) rows was less dry plant matter between the trees, which cut down on fires.

In the UK Phil Corbett of the Own-Root Fruit Tree project, www.cooltemperate.co.uk, is looking at coppicing fruit trees.

Just a clarification about the wind storm that flattened my hazels, referenced above: It was not a downburst, but a derecho like the one that hit the east coast last month. It hit on June 29, 1998, 14 years earlier to the day. Our local weather station was destroyed when the winds reached 100 mph, but the station at a nearby town held together and recorded 140 mph, and we had more damage than they did. The winds lasted for about 45 minutes, and the storm covered around a dozen counties at a time. As Phil noted, the hazels were flattened and the nuts were all knocked off, but the bushes stood back up shortly after the storm ended. They have borne heavy crops every year since then.

The universities are all way behind the curve when it comes to woody agriculture, agroforestry, permaculture, or whatever you want to call it. The one that is way out in front of those mentioned above is the University of Missouri www.centerforagroforestry.org. The suggestion that, "if it doesn't exist at the universities, it doesn't exist...." is just plain nonsense.

While there are many very real advantages to perennial agriculture, some of the claims of superior productivity are significantly over-hyped. In particular: "potential solar energy capture is very much greater; in the range of 3X more than single crop maize": This is definitely not true here in southern Ontario, Canada. Corn is extremely effective in capturing available solar energy in this seasonal environment. It typically achieves complete soil coverage by late May, not long after the local trees have leafed out, and continues photosynthesis until the trees have changed colour and shut down for the winter. Average yields for the province are 8000lbs/acre/year of kernels, plus another 3000lbs of cobs and stalks if you want to harvest the biomass. Maximum reported yields are over 12000lbs/acre/year, just of kernels; much better than the maximum yields reported above from hazelnuts, and in a colder climate. The farm where I work was the site of extended bioenergy trials involving switchgrass and hybrid willows; the two systems were close, but the grasses were able to capture more energy per acre than the trees. C4 grasses like corn, switchgrass and sugar cane use a more efficient photosynthetic pathway than trees or soybeans; they are inherently more efficient solar collectors. While there are many benefits to using trees instead of annual crops, we need to be honest about the reduction in primary productivity that will result.

I just want to take this opportunity to thank Phil and his team for their absolutely visionary work these past many decades. Woody agriculture not only reduces the carbon footprint of agriculture (a major contributor to climate change) but is also a significant carbon–sequestering practice. If it were to be adopted on a massive scale, woody agriculture could sequester 10% (or very much more) of all carbon that needs to be drawn out of the atmosphere. To review my calculations and read a review of perennial farming systems and their potential to sequester carbon and solve social and ecological problems, visit www.perennialsolutions.org and click on "carbon-sequestering agriculture."

Interesting article thanks, I'm interested to know if you have any figures for your fossil fuel use for fertiliser application and also the harvesting of the nuts, what kind of machine, level of complexity etc.

This article is interesting however is lacking in critical areas

What is method of farm scale nut processing?
Are these hybrids propagated by vegetative cuttings or do nuts come true to type?
Who are suppliers of propagation material for local nursery production of 20 to 30,000 plants per year?
Nuts, live cutting or grafting wood?

Bellingham , Wa

There has been a fair amount of work using woody nitrogen fixing perennials in Africa. Branches with leaves can be lopped off for forage for goats and the wood used as fuel.

I think the issue of phosphate fertilizer is not as significant because the roots are deep and permanent. They get phosphate from the whole depth of soil, not just the top where the annual roots are.

Turning the nut shells, or leaves, or twigs into biochar would increase CO2 sequestration and would also improve the soil. Terra preta is what Native Americans did in the Amazon and some of the soil they generated is still fertile today.


This is a much better way to deal with waste biomass than composting. In composting much of the carbon comes off as CO2. If you carbonize it, it stays behind as elemental carbon with a lifetime of many centuries. It also acts as activated carbon and retains toxic organics. In making biochar, all you would lose is some nitrogen, everything else is retained.

Wouldn't that include things like mesquite (hmm, apparently a water-table-sucker), or honey locust or black locust?

Is anyone using a biochar process to deal with residual waste (commonly referred to as slash) in logging operations in coniferous forests?

From Woods End Laboratories:

Biochar Claims Overblown


The author (Phil Rutter) is traveling and I hope he can get back to these latest questions soon.
Here is my question Phil - although you've partially answered it in your frequent helpful emails to me.

I just planted (as you know) 330 seedlings. When they mature this is going to be way more than I can handle manually, unless I hold a family reunion or such. I believe in Woody Ags yield and ecological/environmental benefits, but how much of that yield will need to be 'subtracted' for harvesting/processing effort? Of course, if I planted an equivalent amount of corn or soybeans I would have a crapload of work too - but picking and then shelling 300 plants worth is probably going to need a machine? (I suppose if hazels become more prevalent, an economy of scale could happen with people chipping in to rent the nut picker machines (or thrashers or whatever they are called).

Any research done on EROI on Hazels assuming human energy input? And how does that increase using machinery? (probably doesnt exist, just curious)

Thanks Nate for letting us know why Phil hasn't been able to answer questions the last few days. I left him a question about removing my old nutless european hazels so I can replant his (hoping that instead of digging them out we can just cut them off at ground level and use stump killer)

Harvesting your 330 hazel plants will be quite a project. At 5 minutes per tree that is 28 hours of labor. But spending three or four workdays doing it by hand is not so bad since each year you don't have to till and plant and water and weed like you would for annual crops.

Picking nuts off of bushes is pretty light work, so it is something that the very old or very young can also do. A whole lot easier than digging ditches or chopping firewood ;-)

My guess is that the number of calories harvested is WAY larger than the number of calories a person expends picking for 3 or 4 days.

I had heard somewhere its way more than 5 minutes per tree to get all the hazels. But maybe you can get 80% of them in 5 min. Not sure. Thx.

I've known Phil for a long time but not kept up with the details. At one time he was producing trees that would blossom and set nuts over a fairly long period of time, and I recall him saying those would be best for hand-harvesting. He was back then looking ahead to what he's got now -- plants that are timing themselves consistently enough that a harvest can be planned for and done by machine, during a short period predictable of time.

Nate, you might double check about the timing to expect on the plants you have. Maybe you won't have to deal with them all at once -- or might want to transplant some to neighbors and fill in with others with somewhat different timing if those are currently available (I have no idea what's available).

As you say people could cooperate to rent a harvesting machine -- then again they could cooperate on hand-harvesting too.

Got neighbors or tourists? Have you considered doing a "You-Pick" open house? Tax'em some fair percentage of the nuts they collect to make it worth your time and theirs.

Or you could find someone with pigs and let them come in and clean up fallen nuts and take your, ahem, cut in low-saturated-fat pork.

I recall hearing long ago that before the Chestnut Blight hit the South, when hogs were fattened on surplus chestnuts as a routine thing, foraging under the big trees, the pig fat was soft and almost liquid -- fairly well unsaturated, like the fats they were eating.

Just speculation here, I know nothing about this stuff except that I've been applauding and doing whatever I could to support Phil's work for a long time. I think it's offering an alternative badly needed now.

Phil will be hosting a field day on August 18 that will include a demo of machine harvesting of hazels. He also has a husking machine--don't know if a demo of that will be included at the field day. Details at www.badgersett.com.

Perennial agriculture is certainly an innovation, but its innovation is not in contrast to agroforestry or permaculture. For example if I see the last picture of the article; what is against intercropping between the chestnut trees and the hickories?

It's true that the renewed interest in agroforestry started in the tropics when trees were rediscovered as to have an important function to provide shade (to coffee plants) or to supply extra fertilisation (acacia), which were difficult and partly succesful developments. But here in France I consider right now that agroforestry in combination with no-till organic farming has grown to become THE most innovative branch of ecological agriculture with an elaborate network of farming based research.


Figure 7 above (the map) annoyingly is no bigger when clicked and the text is still not legible. It'd be handy to be able to see the original sized better.

It'd also be very interesting to see that overlaid with this drought map -- looks like Phil's farm is at the edge of where it gets bad (and he's shown what his neighbors are living with now -- it is bad there). But some of the hazel planting trials are out there in the severe drought. How're they doing?

How are the plants that have been in the ground a few years doing, in the severe drought areas, this year? Have the folks with those plantings been encouraged to come here and talk about what they're doing, whether they're needing to irrigate, whether the drought's bringing them more nut thieving animals (and whether the wildlife has anything else to eat around them)?

It's one of those horrifying "natural experiments" in stress:


Photos at your BRC Illinois site and the above show a fairly wide row spacing--20-25 ft? What do you recommend, and plant spacing. Do you know if hazel roots extend much beyond the drip line? Finally, is winter mouse girdling a factor at establishment.