Benefits of sustainable label studied

Hazelnut producers, caught up in the quest for sustainability, are looking hard at the possibility of contracting with a firm like California’s SureHarvest as a third-party certification entity.

“One goal of our ongoing effort to examine issues affecting hazelnuts is to consider a third-party certification,” says Oregon Hazelnut Commission Chairman Mark Gibbs.

The industry is being polled by SureHarvest to determine how it wants to tackle its sustainability assurance program, says Daniel Sonke, SureHarvest senior scientist.

“Nobody in this survey is pushing for our firm to be the certification firm,” he explains. “We’re simply trying to discover what the industry wants to do.”

Sustainability certification, which many believe has a valued-added marketing value as well as a connection between farming and conservation, is high on the priority list of many commodity concerns. Oregon and Washington winegrape vineyardists are heavily involved in their own sustainable program, one which has already resulted in some value-added efforts. The Oregon Wine Board has added a Certified Sustainable wine marketing arm called Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine, which ensures that assurance sustainable practices, such as conservation farming and wine production measures, went into the product.

Key Points

• Hazelnut growers are looking into a sustainable certification process.

• There could be marketing advantages with a certification program.

• Oregon hazelnut grower Steve Heesacker was named 2009 grower of the year.

The third-party guarantee provides the kind of buyer’s satisfaction needed to make the program work.

Hazelnuts, like wine, are a “high-quality player in a growth market,” says Gibbs, which could benefit from certification. With 2,000 new hazelnut acres planted in the past two years, the viability of the industry appears encouraging, despite a recent sideswipe by a salmonella scare.

But the hazelnut business has its share of ongoing threats, Gibbs notes. “We are increasingly under the regulatory microscope, and we have a big problem with urban encroachment” from development bordering orchards, he explains.

“We need to get involved in a sustainable initiative,” he says, as a way to enhance the image of hazelnuts.

“It is better if we do this on our own rather than have others come in and define what ‘sustainable’ should be,” he adds in regard to potential new regulatory actions.

“We hope to find out what growers want to do in the survey,” says Gibbs. Benefits to a certified sustainable program can include not only improved public relations with the public, but also enhanced conservation, which could lead to additional research funding for the industry.

Forest Grove, Ore., producer Steve Heesacker was named OHC 2009 Grower of the Year during the Nut Growers Society’s annual meeting during the Northwest Agricultural Show in Portland, Ore., during January.

This article published in the March, 2010 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.