When applied research becomes a tool for regional development
In addition to research and innovation, regional development is at the heart of Biopterre’s mission, especially when it comes to projects aimed at the development of new and emerging crops oriented around a collective sector reflection. Indeed, it is important for the Biopterre team to invest in development-bearing projects that will have a meaningful impact for the companies supported. Research must therefore be carried out in a broader context and be connected to the various elements: supply, processing, marketing, mode of consumption, etc. The development of the hazelnut sector is a wonderful example of this!
In 2014, Biopterre carried out a diagnosis and an opportunity study of the non-timber forest products (NTFP) sector of Bas-Saint-Laurent to assess the state of this sector and identify the impediments to its development. This was followed by the creation of a committee comprising representatives of the region’s eight RCMs. The objective of this committee is to diversify and boost the economic activities of Bas-Saint-Laurent by focusing on the development of NTFP with high commercial potential. A clear choice was then made as to the culture to be preferred: hazelnut.
The hazelnut market
The global hazelnut market is booming and growing by 5% every year. The Canadian hazelnut market is mainly based on imports (90%). It is known that in 2015, in Quebec alone, 132.7 million dollars were spent on imported hazelnuts, mainly from Turkey and the United States. These data suggest long-term market potential and stability, especially with climate change disrupting areas of usual hardiness.
Impact of the establishment of a new sector in Bas-Saint-Laurent
Although there is growing interest for nut cultures in Quebec, there are no large-scale orchards. Many scientific and technical challenges remain. Although certain hazel cultivars are native to Bas-St-Laurent, such as the beaked hazel (Corylus cornuta) and the American hazel (Corylus americana), they are fragile to various pests known to affect their productivity. For a sector to be established, the implantation of more productive and disease-resistant cultivars is necessary.
Twenty-two producers took part in this research project aimed at testing the hardiness of hybrid hazel cultivars developed in Quebec and at optimizing cultivation practices for Bas-St-Laurent’s regional conditions. It should be noted that this research project, which is conducted by Biopterre, is supported by Les Saveurs du Bas-Saint-Laurent, an organization whose expertise is to facilitate the marketing of agri-food products of Bas-Saint-Laurent. The involvement of Saveurs du Bas-Saint-Laurent ensures the link between applied research and, ultimately, marketing needs.Also, in addition to the 22 producers directly involved in the project, a network of over 150 people are interested in the future of the project and could eventually be interested in being part of the adventure.
The downside of launching an applied research initiative on hazelnut is that it will have to be carried out on the long term. Hazels are only productive 8-10 years after their plantation, so the results will have to wait. And until then, the work continues. The second phase of the research project will focus on the adaptation of pruning methods and cultural management strategies, after which, we will address harvesting and packaging of hazelnuts and co-products (shells, twigs, residues, etc.). The objective remains the diversification and revitalization of economic activities in the Bas-Saint-Laurent by setting up a new sector focused on the production and development of an NTFP with high commercial potential. Applied research is used as a tool for regional development!