Main content area

Establishing a successful chestnut industry in Michigan: some problem solving strategies

Fulbright, D. W., Mandujano, M., Medina Mora, C., Lizotte, E., Guyer, D. E., Donis-González, I. R., Jarosz, A. M., Springer, J. C., Blackwell, R.
Acta horticulturae 2018 no.1220 pp. 155-162
Castanea dentata, Castanea mollissima, Cryphonectria parasitica, coasts, cultivars, death, frost, growers, harvesting, hybrids, industry, insect pests, marketing, models, nursery stock, nuts, orchards, planting, problem solving, seedlings, seeds, small farms, spring, trees, winter, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania
The history of chestnut production in Michigan begins with hobbyists or small farm growers who decided to begin a commercial industry by planting Chinese chestnut seedlings. The American chestnut was never prevalent in Michigan and it was not known how the Chinese chestnut trees would grow and produce in this northern state. Many of these early growers followed protocols predicated on model chestnut farms established in other states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania. Years later, Michigan State University researchers were contacted as growers began to question the lack of chestnut production in their orchards. It was discovered that few of the seedling trees actually produced chestnuts and that the lack of size made the Michigan chestnut less commercially desirable. Being a seedling tree also meant that it took longer for the trees to mature and produce chestnuts. Researchers suggested planting European × Japanese hybrid cultivars that growers on the west coast of North America were growing. Some of these cultivars performed much better than the Chinese chestnut seedling trees and went into production faster and with larger nuts. Once several growers switched or established orchards of European × Japanese hybrid cultivars, yields increased, a cooperative was formed and a commercial chestnut industry quickly developed. Growers can now expect to produce 2,500-5,000 kg chestnuts ha-1. To reach this achievement, several challenges have been encountered. These challenges include chestnut blight, internal kernel breakdown, insect pests, spring frost events, winter injury and death, production of enough nursery stock, harvesting issues, storage rots, marketing avenues, and return on investment. How we dealt with these challenges will be discussed.