- Associated Press - Saturday, July 18, 2015

CANTON, Minn. (AP) - Phil Rutter has no illusions the best-seller list will include his new book: “Growing Hybrid Hazelnuts: The New Resilient Crop for a Changing Climate.”

“We’re not big and not well-known,” said the rural Canton hazelnut grower and visionary. “And the topic doesn’t immediately catch your eye.” But he also added that the few thousand copies sold so far are spreading the word about his passion.

The book is a next step in his reaching out to a wider audience, said his son, Brandon Rutter, who has a doctorate in engineering and works with his father on Badgersett Research Corp. northeast of Canton.

There, they have been experimenting for a few decades with growing hazelnuts as an alternative to corn and soybeans, the Post-Bulletin (https://bit.ly/1gjOT1q ) reported. Nuts, they believe, will produce as much food as the two other crops, but the nuts will be healthier for people and the planet. They will guard the soil 365 days a year while corn and soybean fields are barren much of the year and erode.

One of his ah-ha moments came when the family first moved there and he found an old soil map saying a particular part of his land once has up to 18 inches of topsoil, Phil Rutter said. When he looked, parts were bare, others had only maybe 6 inches. Erosion from row crops were the reason, he said. They looked for something to replace corn and soybeans and began investigating hazelnuts, he said.

“Agriculture is deadly,” Rutter said. “It’s not the farmers’ fault, but banks and people and the government tell them to do it.”

In the book, he is just as blunt: “Agriculture today is the single most destructive thing our species does on our planet.”

Those who grow row crops like to say they are feeding the world, but 40 percent of corn goes to ethanol, he said. Of the rest, only a little of the corn and soybeans are eaten directly by people while much is fed to livestock, he said. There is an abundance of food but it’s ill-distributed for financial reasons, he said.

In writing his book, Rutter said, he discovered that hazelnuts were heavily used thousands of years ago and were vital to prehistoric cultures. They were used to weave long weirs used to catch fish, and in the old wattle and daub buildings, he said. They helped create European civilization, he said.

While the Rutters have been experimenting with hazelnuts for a few decades, they still have much work to do. After all, hazelnuts are about 35 million years old, and chestnuts are 50 million years old, while corn is only maybe 30,000 years old. That means there’s much more genetic variation in the nuts, he said.

The things you can do with hazelnuts are so much more than you can with corn, Brandon Rutter said. Hazelnuts “are going to take a little while,” he said. “We might be getting there in 100 years, 50 if we’re lucky.”

For example, they recently found that one plant was able to produce 100 nuts from one cluster. Unfortunately, the stalk isn’t strong enough to hold up that many, so they have to find a way to make that happen.

They have also found a plant dubbed “big red” because of its reddish hazelnuts that produces a lot more nuts and does it every year instead of every second year, he said.

The goal of Badgersett, the goal of the book, is to push forward the number of people interested and to get more people working with the nuts, he said.


Information from: Post-Bulletin, https://www.postbulletin.com

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