Rutgers University plant biologist Tom Molnar has bred a blight-resistant hazelnut tree to help address a worldwide hazelnut shortage, the university recently announced.
The new tree introduces a new cash crop to New Jersey. It is resistant to eastern filbert blight, the fungus that has prevented hazelnuts from being grown in New Jersey.
Most hazelnuts sold commercially are grown in Turkey and Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
About a quarter of the world’s hazelnut supply — more than 100,000 tons — goes into making the cocoa and hazelnut spread called Nutella each year, Rutgers said, and demand is soon expected to exceed supply.
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Molnar oversees one of only two hazelnut tree breeding programs nationwide. It’s for the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. He has researched development of the tree for two decades, Rutgers said.
He is preparing to distribute the new trees to New Jersey farmers to test their viability starting in 2018.
Researchers crossed plants that grew well in the Garden State with plants from Italy that have the desired nut quality. They grew thousands of trees before picking the best one, according to Rutgers.
Molnar used pollen from Oregon State University’s research program to develop the new tree variety.
Nutella’s parent company, Ferrero, has been keeping close watch on the project, Rutgers said. The company developed a relationship with Molnar in 2008, after they learned about his research. Representatives from the company visit Rutgers research plots twice a year for updates.
Rutgers said it hopes to release a new hazelnut tree in the next two to three years. If those trees thrive near Ferrero’s production facility in Southern Ontario, Nutella could be made with hazelnuts from a tree developed at Rutgers within the decade, Rutgers said.