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A nutty, thankless, but persistent obsession

Since collecting hazelnuts, dropped like gifts from heaven onto my shed roof with no effort on my part, the idea of growing nuts commercially took root and refuses to leave.

After a lifetime spent growing over-bred, puny and temperamental veg plants, which need annual planting, constant encouragement, and give up at the first hardship, I yearn for vigorous crops that are truly happy in our climate.

British hedgerows have withstood the abuses of hedge-trimmers, undermining rabbits and marauding livestock since the 18th century Inclosure Acts; they are incredibly diverse, but the dominant plant is normally hazel. Can we learn from these beautiful hedges, which also provide sanctuary for so much wildlife?

The persistence of my nutty dream finally led us to hosting a seminar last week on the potential for commercial nut growing in Devon. An Italian nut agronomist thought our climate and soil were near ideal. Peckish squirrels, and a beetle which lays its eggs in the nuts, seem to be the main threat; the investment needed for harvesting, drying and processing equipment is scary but manageable; and then there’s the need to develop a whole new area of expertise.

Altogether, it is a huge gamble. But a number of the farmers in attendance were interested, partly through a desire to be part of the solution rather than the problem with regard to climate change and wildlife loss. Charles Tebbut, a nut importer determined to get more nuts grown in the UK, estimated that the social cost savings from carbon sequestration, avoided pollution, and wildlife benefits could be quantified at £409 per hectare per year.

If a mechanism existed to pay that, it would be more than enough to get us planting. But it is a theoretical exercise; frustratingly, despite the widely acknowledged benefits of agroforestry and Michael Gove’s mantra of ‘public money for public goods’, under the current rules, planting hazel trees would actually cost us £180 per hectare every year in lost grants. A review of those rules was cancelled due to Brexit. Despite my deep scepticism of carbon off-setting, entering that murky market would be one answer.

I suspect we will still be arguing about how to reward for environmental services and charge for pollution even as the last hectare of melting permafrost belches its methane into the atmosphere. Perhaps we will just plant our hazels anyway.

    Comments

    [email protected]

    2 Months 1 Week

    Please Please grow hazelnuts. They are my absolute favourite. They are healthy great for wildlife very tasty as a snack and I can't wait to taste your first crop

    0 Reply

    Sheffski

    2 Months 1 Week

    We have a corkscrew hazel in our garden. Would you like to collect them (with our empty veg boxes) for processing...?!

    1 Reply

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    Comments Editor

    2 Months

    That would be a surprise for the Riverford recycling team! Not sure they are quite set up for processing nuts too....

    0 Reply

    [email protected]

    2 Months 1 Week

    Perhaps for economic viability, consider growing hazlenuts as part of a silvopasture project. Such as those agro systems known as Montado in Portugal, or Dehesa in Spain. I'd be a happy bunny to find hazlenuts in my Riverford vegbox!

    1 Reply

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    Comments Editor

    2 Months

    Thanks Garry - Riverford have had a really positive response to this so hopefully this will prove an interesting idea for other organic growers to explore too. Although it will be a long term project, already Guy has a diverse range of native trees and hedgerows planted on the farm just for the wildlife to enjoy.

    0 Reply

    Val

    2 Months 1 Week

    Yes, grow hazelnuts!

    0 Reply

    Chris

    2 Months

    I would talk to this man , Guy . Best organic nuts I've ever tasted , grown in England . I would love it if you grew cobnuts . Then if you also sold Sharpham Park spelt flour , my joy would be complete ! Good luck & keep dreaming .

    1 Reply

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    Chris

    2 Months

    https://www.kentishcobnuts.com/

    0 Reply

    Chris

    2 Months

    Sorry , forgot the link - https://www.kentishcobnuts.com/

    0 Reply

    Chris

    2 Months

    https://www.kentishcobnuts.com/ Sorry , forgot the link .

    0 Reply

    DivaDiane

    2 Months

    By all means, grow hazelnuts! And I’ll send ours back with the boxes too!

    0 Reply

    Guy Singh-Watson

    Self-confessed veg nerd, Guy Singh-Watson has over the last 30 years taken Riverford from one man and a wheelbarrow delivering homegrown organic veg to friends, to a national veg box scheme delivering to around 50,000 customers a week. Guy is an opinionated and admired figure in the world of organic farming, who still spends more time in the fields than in the boardroom. Twice awarded BBC Radio 4 Farmer of the Year, Guy is passionate about sharing with others the organic farming and business knowledge he has accumulated over the last three decades. His video rants have provided a powerful platform to do this, with a video on pesticides going viral on Facebook to reach 5.6 million views and 91,000 shares. His weekly veg box newsletters connect customers to the farm with refreshingly honest accounts of the trials and tribulations of producing organic food, and the occasional rant about farming, ethical and business issues he feels strongly about. In June 2018, Guy handed over the reins of Riverford to its staff, choosing employee ownership as the model that will protect Riverford's ethical values forever and ensure the security of its employees.  

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