In 1906, near the confluence of the McKenzie and Willamette rivers, George Dorris planted five acres of hazelnut trees, the first in the state. With that orchard, Dorris planted the state’s hazelnut industry. Today, Oregon produces 99 percent of the nation’s hazelnuts. But back in the 1980s, the future of Oregon’s hazelnuts looked bleak. A fungal disease called eastern filbert blight began wiping out orchards and threatening the entire industry.
Searching for a remedy, AES tree nut researchers set to work crossbreeding tree varieties for resistance to the disease. Breeding new tree varieties takes years, patience, and perseverance. Growers helped fund the research with more than $2 million through the Oregon Hazelnut Commission. The work paid off. All new varieties of hazelnuts that OSU has released since 2005 have genes that are resistant to the blight. And Shawn Mehlenbacher, head of OSU’s hazelnut breeding program, continues to develop new varieties with an even broader base of disease resistance.