Many people enjoy hazelnuts in chocolate spreads or as a snack. And as more fall in love with the flavor, the global hazelnut market is expected to double this decade.

Keefe Keeley of the Savanna Institute wants the American Midwest to help meet the rising demand. He says growing hazelnuts on a large scale instead of soy could help farmers and the climate.

Like soy, hazelnuts can be a source of oil and protein. But they do not need planting and plowing each year.

“Hazelnuts represent a crop where we could have long-lived plants with roots deep in the soil, keeping that soil in place, adding more carbon to the soil,” Keeley says.

He says growing them does not require eliminating annual crops. Farmers can plant the nuts in rows and raise other crops or livestock in between.

“And that also adds diversity to the landscape, which has benefits for spreading out a farmer’s risk and for providing more habitat for wildlife,” he says.

Expanding the Midwest hazelnut industry will take developing more well adapted plants. It will also entail building new markets for the nuts such as for livestock feed and even biodiesel. But Keeley says the potential is exciting.

“It’s really an opportunity for farmland to become a sponge that soaks carbon out of the atmosphere,” he says.

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Reporting credit: Stephanie Manuzak/ChavoBart Digital Media.

Topics: Food & Agriculture