A global shortage of hazelnuts and an incentive from a major chocolate producer is prompting a number of farmers in southwestern Ontario to grow the nuts.

The Ontario Hazelnut Association predicts more than 240 hectares (600 acres) will be grown in 2015. That's up from 40 hectares (100 acres) last year.

Scott Deslippe sits on the association's board. He said hazelnuts could be a good source of income for farmers. 

"This year, I was out in Oregon. They were harvesting mature orchards out there. They were getting 3,000 pounds (1,360 kg) per acre on average, and they were getting $1.71 (U.S.) at their receiving station. So do the math on that. That's a pretty good revenue," Deslippe said.

He's planting close to 10,000 hazelnut trees this year.

Soaring costs

The cost of hazelnuts has soared by more than 60 per cent from 2013 to 2014. That's because crop-killing hail storms and frost hit the world's biggest hazelnut producer, Turkey.

Then, there's Ferrero, the company that makes both Nutella and Ferrero Rocher chocolates, which opened a plant in Brantford, Ont. in 2006 and is interested in securing stable, local hazelnut supplies.

The company signed an agreement with the Ontario Hazelnut Association in 2013 for a long-term purchasing agreement with Ontario farmers.

"The interest is growing. It's not something that people are used to. Many people never have even seen a hazelnut actually so that's quite interesting," Markus Weber, production manager for Mori Essex Nurseries, in Harrow Ont. said.

The nursery grows an assortment of fruits and nut trees, including hazelnut.

"I think it's a good climate to grow them. The only thing is in British Columbia and also in Washington, Oregon where they have them, they get a lot more rain," Weber said.

'Specialty crop'

Nathan Crocker switched from cash crops to hazelnuts more than a decade ago.

That's when he and his mom decided their 11 hectares (27 acres) were not enough to make a living on growing traditional crops.

"For conventional corn, wheat and soybean, it's just not enough to make any money. So you have to kind of go into a specialty crop," Crocker said.

He likens hazelnut farming to the wine industry.

"Someone can't just plant a whole bunch of trees and then the next year they are producing. It takes five, six, seven, eight years to get a decent crop."