The Nebraska Forest Service at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, along with partners in a national consortium, has received a $1.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop hybrid hazelnuts as a perennial crop in Nebraska and across the U.S. for use as food, animal feed and biofuel.
Oregon State University, Rutgers University and the Arbor Day Foundation are the other members of the Hybrid Hazelnut Research Consortium.
"The project combines the strengths and builds on the results of substantial previous research by each institution," said Scott Josiah, state forester and director of the Nebraska Forest Service. "Working together provides access to expanded genetic resources, expertise and breeding techniques, which will speed the development of disease-resistant, climatically adapted hazelnut cultivars for the Midwest and Great Plains."
The Nebraska Forest Service's Horning State Farm Demonstration Forest facility near Plattsmouth is being used to test thousands of crosses for cold hardiness, heat tolerance and disease and insect resistance, Josiah said.
Hazelnut plants require less water than annual crops, are drought resistant and can be grown on hilly, sloping or marginal soils. Research in Nebraska has shown that hazelnuts can be a high-yielding dry-land crop.
Researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln also are studying hazelnut oil for both food oil and biofuel applications in connection with the grant. Their work has shown that hazelnuts can produce nearly twice the amount of oil per acre as soybeans, and the physical and chemical properties of the oil make it substantially superior to soybean oil for culinary use and biodiesel fuel. After the oil is extracted, a high-quality protein meal remains for animal feed.
Hazelnuts are a rich source of protein, vitamin E, folate, B vitamins and arginine, and are one of the best nut sources of heart-healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Hazelnut oil is high in omega-9 and omega-6 fatty acids, making it a healthy cooking oil option.
The Nebraska Forest Service is part of the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at UNL.