Growing hazelnuts in the Tararua isn't a nutty idea but one that offers lucrative commercial benefits.

"Tararua is an ideal area to grow hazelnuts, which offer an alternative land use," said Lianne Simpkin, marketing and communications manager at Tararua District Council.

"We can produce better nuts here than we import. And we've got a world market going crazy for nuts - it's off the Richter scale. We think it's a very credible crop for this district and right through the volcanic plateau region."

There are about 300,000 commercial hazelnut trees in New Zealand, covering 400ha, but we still import a further 200 tonnes a year.

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A working party, led by Murray Redpath, chairman of the Hazelnut Growers Association of New Zealand, has been carrying out the groundwork on the project and taking it to the next stage: linking it to commercial viability.

And Mr Redpath believes hazelnuts could potentially deliver returns exceeding those from dairy farming if growers can achieve the yields and orchard management cost-efficiencies seen in places like Chile and Oregon, which have similar environments.

"This next stage of work for hazelnut commercialisation has been enabled by the MPI Sustainable Farming Fund (SFF)," Mrs Simpkin said.

"This project has assembled a guide to growing hazelnuts commercially in New Zealand, adding to information on hazelnut pollination and nut quality provided by previous SFF projects.

"As part of the council's Go! Project [investigating new land use options], hazelnut growing offers an alternative land use option in sensitive catchments, if an economically viable industry can be developed.

"This would offer alternative employment options in rural economies and diversify income options regionally and nationally. For example, while dairy returns are falling, hazelnut prices - and the price of most nuts - are increasing to the highest levels ever experienced."

The Go! Project offers the opportunity for job creation, biodiversity, sustainable farming systems and increased family business incomes.

And Mrs Simpkin said landowners would be encouraged to consider riparian areas for planting the trees.

"This crop would be very desirable in our area," she said.

Dannevirke is one of three areas in the North Island to host one-day seminars on growing hazelnuts - other workshops will be held in Greytown and Rotorua.

And there will be a special treat for those taking part, with local culinary expert and restaurant owner Alison Franklin creating a salted hazelnut dark chocolate at the workshop.

"It'll be a special treat for your taste buds," Mrs Simpkin promised.

- To register for the workshop on Monday, May 30, between 10am and 3pm at the Tararua District Council's offices in Gordon St, call (06) 374 4093, or email lianne.simpkin@tararuadc.govt.nz
Go! Tararua:

* The Go! Project is a Tararua District Council initiative which has identified several crop options that are highly suitable for our district.

* Go! Projects offer the opportunity for job creation, biodiversity, sustainable farming systems and increased family business incomes.

Why hazelnuts?

* Hazelnuts offer significant potential for providing an alternative low-leaching land use in catchments such as the Tararua, which face nitrogen leaching limits.

* Hazelnuts are not susceptible to root diseases, so are well suited to planting in a wide range of soils.

* Hazelnuts thrive in our warm, dry summers.

* Prolonged dry periods at harvest (February/March) are beneficial and significant quantities of water are not required in autumn, when the trees are moving into dormancy.