…Mountain Hazelnuts remains steadfast in its commitment to building a sustainable hazelnut industry in Bhutan, surmounting challenges and forging a prosperous future for growers
By Phurpa Wangmo
In an effort to foster growth and sustainability within the hazelnut industry in Bhutan, Mountain Hazelnuts has been making significant investments in two crucial programs aimed at enhancing grower orchards and maximizing yields. Providing an update on the progress and scientific advancements of these initiatives, the company seeks to enlighten stakeholders about the ongoing efforts being undertaken nationwide.
Addressing the financial hurdles endured during the COVID-19 years, Mountain Hazelnuts acknowledges the misconceptions and understandable frustrations that have emerged among growers. Despite the challenging circumstances faced by the company and the industry as a whole, Mountain Hazelnuts remains dedicated to fulfilling its original mission, actively striving to overcome obstacles and support growers.
The journey of establishing a new value chain for a crop is never without its challenges. Introducing hazelnuts as a tree crop in Bhutan necessitates adapting to diverse growing conditions, training growers in new techniques, and effectively managing emerging pests and diseases. This arduous process is particularly evident in hazelnut cultivation due to its intricate flowering patterns, which require meticulous planning and scientific expertise to optimize.
A noteworthy global example can be found in Chile, where it took two decades of relentless work and continuous modifications to the variety mix before hazelnut yields began to soar. Today, Chile stands as the world’s fifth-largest hazelnut producer, showcasing the potential for success in establishing a flourishing hazelnut industry. Similarly, within the Bhutanese context, the introduction of apples took a decade of strategic planning and the identification of suitable pollenizers before achieving fruitful results.
While the journey in Bhutan has taken longer than initially anticipated, Mountain Hazelnuts acknowledges and empathizes with the growers’ frustrations regarding the delay. The valuable insights gained over the past decade have paved the way for the implementation of grafting programs, which are laying a solid foundation for a sustainable commercial hazelnut enterprise. With patience and careful attention, both yields and incomes are poised to grow, promising brighter prospects for growers.
Understanding the intricate science behind hazelnut flowering is paramount to achieving successful pollination and optimal nut production. As a cross-pollinated tree, hazelnuts rely on a compatible pollen source from a different variety to fertilize the female flowers, as self-pollination is not possible. Moreover, synchronizing the timing of male and female flowering is crucial to ensure that receptive flowers receive pollen. Overcoming this challenge requires multiple pollenizers to cover the entire flowering period of a given production variety, maximizing fruiting potential.
Mountain Hazelnuts remains steadfast in its commitment to building a sustainable hazelnut industry in Bhutan, surmounting challenges and forging a prosperous future for growers. By sharing their progress, addressing concerns, and illuminating the complexities of hazelnut cultivation, the company hopes to foster understanding and support among stakeholders. With concerted efforts, the vision of a thriving hazelnut industry in Bhutan is within reach, promising economic growth and environmental sustainability for the nation.
Mountain Hazelnuts, a pioneering company dedicated to establishing a sustainable hazelnut industry in Bhutan, continues to make significant strides in overcoming challenges and driving progress. One critical aspect of hazelnut cultivation is the requirement for a specific amount of cold weather, known as chill hours, which are crucial for optimal bud break and abundant flower production. The necessary chill hour count varies across different hazelnut varieties. For instance, Ennis necessitates 1170 to 1255 hours for female flowering, while Yamhill and TDG require 400 to 700 chill hours.
Regrettably, a new challenge emerged, surpassing initial predictions. The rapid pace of climate change has led to accelerated warming, resulting in inadequate chill hours for one of our production varieties in orchards situated below 2,400 meters above sea level (asl). Insufficient chill hours pose risks of inconsistent and reduced flowering and fruiting. To address this issue, the Company has heavily invested in grafting programs since 2022, transitioning to more resilient, lower chill hour Bhutan proven production varieties.
Investment in Grafting Programs for Enhanced Yields and Income
Building upon the knowledge acquired over the past decade, Mountain Hazelnuts has made substantial investments in two key grafting programs: the Orchard Conversion Program (OCP) and the Orchard Optimization Program (OOP).
In 2022, as part of the OCP, the Company introduced two new production varieties and four compatible pollenizers to approximately 600 acres of orchards, primarily located in eastern and central Bhutan. Meanwhile, for orchards above 2,400 meters asl, where adequate chill hours are available, existing varieties can still thrive, but the addition of 3-4 pollenizer varieties per orchard is necessary to achieve the required numbers (15%) for optimal fruiting. This initiative, known as the Orchard Optimization Program (OOP), entered its second year in 2023. Between January and March of that year, the program expanded further, covering 716 acres of orchards across 17 Dzongkhags. A total of 86 grafters in 16 teams were engaged in the 2023 program, with a sum of Nu. 8,460,000 invested to enhance grower orchards.
Promising Grafting Success and Exporting Harvest
With careful attention and patience, every orchard has the potential for successful grafting, as demonstrated by the inspiring story of Pema. Mountain Hazelnuts eagerly anticipates further success stories in the months and years to come. The Company is preparing to export its first post-COVID harvest (2022 crop) to Australia in the upcoming weeks, marking the beginning of many future exports.
Success of 2019 Pollenizer Grafts and Support Programs
The grafting of Georgian scion material commenced in 2019, and these grafts are now in their fourth growing season. Their remarkable growth has successfully filled the spaces left by the original plants. The grafts, which began fruiting in 2023, two years after grafting, are expected to yield up to ½ kg of nuts each this year.
In 2023, a new support program was introduced to improve grafting success rates. The Company provided agronet on a cost-sharing basis to facilitate individual fencing, protecting the grafts from animal damage. Growers supplied the poles and labor for erecting the fencing. With the implementation of net fencing, average grafting success rates above 60% are expected this year.