The Rutgers 250 All-Star Variety for October is the Eastern Filbert Blight-resistant hazelnut! Hazelnuts are on the brink of becoming a revolutionary commodity crop for New Jersey agriculture, which could greatly help farmers diversify their business and increase revenue. This is a direct result of the research being conducted by the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station’s (NJAES) hazelnut breeding program.
Eastern Filbert Blight is a disease that infects and kills hazelnut trees in the Northeast U.S. One of the primary objectives of the Rutgers NJAES hazelnut breeding program is to develop a variety with disease resistance, so that blight will no longer decimate hazelnut trees in the region. Thanks to NJAES, a new disease-resistant variety will be released soon.
When Rutgers professor C. Reed Funk, now deceased, retired as a turfgrass breeder in 1996, he started a program of evaluating nut tree species as a new crop for New Jersey. Since then, Rutgers plant breeder Tom Molnar has continued this hazelnut breeding program and has planted over 25,000 nut trees at NJAES research farms around the state.
Hazelnut breeding within NJAES uses traditional breeding techniques, including hand pollination, to overcome challenges facing agricultural communities. This research has been made possible by grant-funded projects and is aided by collaborations with other groups, such as the Hybrid Hazelnut Consortium. The Consortium is comprised of four organizations: the Arbor Day Foundation, Oregon State University, the Nebraska Forest Service/University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Rutgers University. The Consortium is committed to creating a leading research and breeding program to develop hazelnuts as a widely adapted, high-yielding, and low-input sustainable crop that is competitive with annual crops for food, feed, or bioenergy, and specifically has focused on addressing the hazelnut’s susceptibility to Eastern Filbert Blight.
Rutgers researchers conduct experiments within the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station and the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, allowing scientists to draw upon the strengths of both institutions to support agriculture in New Jersey. Molnar conducts valuable research that can result in the emergence of a new industry for the state’s commercial growers.
If you’re interested in tasting Rutgers NJAES hazelnuts and learning more about the hazelnut program, come to the Rutgers 250 Breeding Celebration and Luncheon on November 4, 2016. Tom Molnar will be speaking about his research successes and challenges and The Bent Spoon of Princeton, NJ, is treating attendees to hazelnut ice cream!
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