Wednesday was a big day for Ontario’s burgeoning hazelnut-farming sector.
In Brantford, the provincial government announced that it will cover up to $11 million of Ferrero Rocher’s planned $90-million expansion.
The company plans to increase production of Nutella and other products it makes in Brantford, as well as build a new cocoa bean processing plant.
The expansion is expected to create 80 jobs with Ferrero Rocher, which opened its Brantford facility in 2006.
Forty kilometres south of Brantford, in Simcoe, representatives from Ferrero Rocher and other organizations were present as the federal government announced a new initiative aimed at encouraging more farmers to grow hazelnuts in Ontario.
The government is putting nearly $500,000 toward a $900,000 project to help develop the province’s hazelnut-farming industry.
The money is going to the Ontario Hazelnut Association. Elliott Currie, who works at the University of Guelph, says the school and the association will work together to determine the best varieties of hazelnuts to grow in Ontario, and the best methods for growing them.
Additionally, researchers will work on developing best practices for everything from harvesting hazelnuts to marketing them.
The hope is that by producing more hazelnuts within the province, Ontario will be able to grow its economy while cutting costs for producers like Ferrero Rocher.
“You’d probably be looking at – just to the farmers – $75-100 million of increased revenue,” Currie says.
While hazelnuts do grow wild in Ontario, concentrated farming is relatively new to the province. There were 40 hectares of the crop planted in 2014, and 240 hectares in 2015.
Michael Gladstone started harvesting hazelnuts in 2016 on his Chatham-Kent-area farm.
He says Ferrero Rocher’s presence in Ontario has driven more and more farmers to consider the crop.
“There’s a tremendous opportunity for return that you’re not going to have with a lot of other crops,” he says.
To this point, hazelnut farming has been concentrated on areas along the north shore of Lake Erie.
Currie says the practice has since spread to farms around communities like Cambridge and Erin, and even as far as North Bay. Much of Ontario is considered to have ideal climate and soil conditions for hazelnuts.
“Generally speaking, if you can grow apples, you can grow hazelnuts,” he says.
Barb Yates, a senior agronomist with Ferrero Canada, says the company is mainly focused on encouraging producers in Haldimand-Norfolk and other communities near Lake Erie, but plans to refocus its efforts northward in the future.
“We’ll be able to … encourage growers to start planting for production,” she says.
Currie estimates that a successful hazelnut industry could provide Ontario with 3,000 long-term jobs, considering that hazelnut trees typically survive for more than 50 years.
“This is just like growing a vineyard,” he says.
“This is trees that are going to mature and do better over time.”
With reporting by Marta Czurylowicz and files from CTV London