Black walnut trees being grown as cash crop on P.E.I.

Some property owners are growing a new kind of crop on P.E.I. — black walnut trees.

'There's a huge amount of land that's just not being used'

Jesse Argent picks through his black walnut saplings. He's started Havenloft Tree Nursery which specializes in growing black walnut trees for the purpose of selling them as long-term investments. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

Some property owners are growing a new kind of crop on P.E.I. — black walnut trees. 

Jesse Argent owns Havenloft Tree Nursery in Charlottetown, which specializes in growing black walnut trees. His company grows the saplings and sells them to property owners as long-term investments. 

"The timber value is incredibly high, as well as the crop that can come down from the tree. The nuts themselves are actually highly valuable per the pound as well," said Argent.

Argent said growers can get up to $5 per pound for the walnuts, with each acre of trees able to produce about 1,000 pounds.

Argent said he got the idea for the the business during his time working in mutual funds, after hearing American clients talk about growing walnut crops as investments. 

For the past four years Argent has been steadily building the business, and this year is working full time on his company after receiving a Skills P.E.I. entrepreneurship grant. 

Tree roots produce a toxin

Now Argent is looking for landowners interested in having the trees grown on their properties.  

Argent says black walnuts can be profitable but take years to grow before they produce nuts, or can be harvested for wood. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

"There's a huge amount of land that's just not being used or [is] underutilized on P.E.I. and it's just a great way to increase land value," he said. 

But the investment isn't without its risks and challenges — Argent said it takes years before growers can harvest the trees for nuts or wood.

The trees also produce a toxin known as juglone, that can make it difficult to grow some types of plants nearby.

"They actually secrete these biochemicals that give them a competitive edge against their local competitors," said David Carmichael, a horticultural technician with the province. 

Tomatoes and other plants in the nightshade family can get choked out if a walnut tree is growing nearby.

Carmichael said that the amount of juglone produced by a black walnut tree depends on its size — the bigger the tree, the more juglone is produced. 

'Curiosity got me'

But only trees older than 15 years could inhibit growth around them, Argent said. 

Pat Binns, a former P.E.I. premier, lives in Hopefield, P.E.I., and has invested in a crop of 200 black walnut trees on his property. Binns had land he wanted to experiment with and got in touch with Argent.

Argent's planted 1000 trees so far this year. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

"I think it's sort of a long-term venture and curiosity got me and I think it's a bit of an opportunity," he said. "I'm hopeful in 10 or 12 years, it might have some walnuts."

Argent has planted 1,000 saplings this year and is applying for more funding with the hopes of building a greenhouse and shed for his orchards. 

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