Cracking the Turkish Hazelnut Market

BY ELANUR URAL

Filbert, fındık, call it what you will: Turkish hazelnuts are about to flood the international market.

Turkey has a near monopoly on hazelnuts, producing about 70% of the world’s supply in recent years. With over 200 processing facilities and more than 300 companies devoted to storing and marketing efforts, it’s a $2.8 billion industry. And Europe is loving it. 85% of export destinations are member states of the European Union, with Germany accounting for half of all Turkish hazelnut imports. 70% of Turkish hazelnuts are purchased for use in chocolate, so the Swiss are also major patrons.[1]

The Black Sea region of Karadeniz is Turkey’s primary hazelnut growing agricultural area. Karadeniz as a region relies heavily on the industry due to its ability to grow on the rainy, humid hills that make up the terrain. In turn, the staggered bushy hazelnut trees help to keep soil erosion under control.[2] Hazelnuts provide the largest crop reliance in Turkey, with about 400 thousand families depending solely upon its production. These families harvest at least 48 varieties of hazelnuts by hand each year; it is nearly impossible to mechanize this process due to the staggered nature of the trees. The nuts are sun-dried, machine blended, and shipped off for storage after harvest is over, usually in mid-to-late September.[3]

But family tradition and the trees’ suitability to the land are only small factors contributing to its prominence in northern Turkey. Since 1962, Fiskobirlik, Turkey’s Hazelnut Growers Union, provided steady and reliable price support to hazelnut farmers. Funded each year by the state, they would buy Turkey’s entire harvest for a set purchasing price from farmers, and exported the product at a lower price.[4] In this way, Fiskobirlik helped keep international buyers coming back for the artificially low prices, while supporting domestic hazelnut farmers. Many growers actually replaced previous crops with hazelnut trees, becoming dependent on the guaranteed profit, leading to the industry’s expansion.

Then in 2006, Fiskobirlik was forced to cut off this support off cold-turkey due to lack of funds from the government as a result of the International Monetary Fund-supported stability programs. Also during this time, then-Prime Minister Erdoğan’s advisor and international merchant Cüneyd Zapsu was accused of abusing his political power by short selling of Turkish hazelnuts for a personal profit. As a result of these two factors, purchasing price for hazelnuts dropped to 2.5 Liras per kilogram that year. Not only was this a drastic decline from the 2005 6.5 Lira/kilo purchasing price, but it was also below the 3.5 Lira/kilo cost of production for farmers.[5] On July 30th of 2006, 100,000 people gathered in Ordu, the highest regional hazelnut growing area, to demand higher prices for the fruits of their labor. Many were met by police with tear gas and military brigades, with 35 getting detained and 51 injured.[6] Addressing the protest, Erdoğan pointed the blame away from his AKP party members and towards Fiskobirlik. He also referred to the protests as acts of terrorism, scapegoating the minority-heavy hazelnut farmer population with anti-Kurdish rhetoric and claiming involvement with illegal organizations. Many were forced to move to the outskirts of urban districts in waves of rural-urban migration.[7]

Fast-forward to 2014, when frost wiped out about a quarter of Karadeniz’s hazelnut crop, and buyers shelled out for the swollen prices that season. At the same time, companies like Italy’s Ferrero SpA– which has made the largest single annual purchases of Turkish hazelnuts for the past five years– began to look elsewhere to shield themselves from volatile price fluctations.[8] Enter the US’s Oregon farmers, who responded by planting extra acreage to fill that gap. Those young new hazelnut trees are just now maturing and able to put out sellable nuts, and Oregon now accounts for 99% of American hazelnut supply. This season, those growers’ acres are estimated to yield up to 60,000 tons, almost double that of last year’s crop and the largest in Oregon history. Generally, about half of these nuts are shipped off fresh to China for shelling and blending, but last month’s opening of a 20 million dollar processing facility by farmer’s cooperative Hazelnut Growers of Oregon is set to give growers a big bite of the finished good pie.[9]

Unfortunately, two major obstacles stand in the way of what seemed like a surefire investment just a few years ago. The first has nothing to do with Turkish farmers, and everything to do with US President Trump’s trade war with China. In the more recent “tit-for-tat” tariff move, China placed an extra 25% tariff on American hazelnuts; this in addition to the existing 25% tariff and an up to 14.5% value added tax.[10] The second threat to Oregon hazelnuts is a comeback in the Turkish hazelnut market.

Turkey is expected to come up with a 560 thousand ton harvest this season according to their Ministry of Agriculture, while exporters predict even larger numbers.[11] At least ten times the Oregon production level of hazelnuts will pour into the international market—including for hungry Chinese buyers—with Turkish varieties. In fact, efforts such as the Hazelnut Promotion Group (FTG) are aimed specifically at taking on the East Asian and Chinese market, whose demand has boomed in recent years.[12] On top of it all, the value of the Turkish Lira is currently at less than one-seventh of the US Dollar (and plunging), further facilitating Turkish exports.[13] Turkish hazelnuts will soon go on super-sale.

And at the same time that Oregon growers will suffer, so will Turkish farmers. Farmers in Karadeniz are getting compensated the same Lira amount per kilogram, but the price of fertilizer and other imported production inputs now cost more due to the deflated currency. In an interview by Hürriyet Daily’s Jale Özgentürk, farmers state that the 2018 harvest purchasing price should be at least 15 Lira/kilo, cost of production being at least 10 Lira/kilo. Although it is still unconfirmed, word is that exporters are planning on setting the international purchasing price at 11.5 Lira. Giresun Commodity Exchange President Yaşar İbaş further explains that, “if we are to look from the perspective of dollars, 15 liras makes around 3 dollars. The inflation price is even less than last year. Buyers are gaining dollars and euros.”[14]

Harvest is just winding down in Turkey, and soon, tons of hazelnuts will be at the buyers’ fingertips at an unbelievable cost. And farmers will pay the price.

References

[1] Anıl, Şahin, et al. “Hazelnut Culture in Turkey.” International Horticultural Congress, vol. 56, no. 4, 2016, pp. 30–35.

[2] Schwartzstein, Peter. “This Small Turkish Town Grows a Quarter of the World’s Hazelnuts.” Qz.com, Quartz Media, 22 Aug. 2015.

[3] Anıl, Şahin, et al. “Hazelnut Culture in Turkey.” International Horticultural Congress, vol. 56, no. 4, 2016, pp. 30–35.

[4] Gönenç, S., et al. “Economic Assessment of Hazelnut Production and the Importance of Supply Management Approaches in Turkey.” Journal of Agriculture and Rural Development in the Tropics and Subtropics, vol. 107, no. 1, 2006, pp. 19–32.

[5] Gambetti, Zeynep, and Marcial Godoy-Anativia. Rhetorics of Insecurity: Belonging and Violence in the Neoliberal Era. New York Univeristy Press, 2013.

[6] İkinci, Sinan. “Mass Protests by Turkish Farmers.” World Socialist Website, International Committee of the Fourth International , 29 Aug. 2006.

[7] Gambetti, Zeynep, and Marcial Godoy-Anativia. Rhetorics of Insecurity: Belonging and Violence in the Neoliberal Era. New York Univeristy Press, 2013.

[8] Nickel, Rod. “Nutella-Maker Ferrero Seeks to Crack Turkish Grip on Hazelnuts.” Reuters, 2 Nov. 2017.

[9] Glucklich, Elon. “Oregon Hazelnut Growers See Warning Signs from Economic Turmoil Overseas.” The Register-Guard, 21 Aug. 2018.

[10] “Try to Develop U.S. Market for Hazelnuts.” The Register-Guard, 4 Sept. 2018.

[11] Özgentürk, Jale. “Dark Days Are on the Horizon for the Turkish Hazelnut.” Hurriyet Daily News, 1 Aug. 2018.

[12] “Exports of Turkish Hazelnuts to China See Massive Increase.” Daily Sabah, 22 Feb. 2018.

[13] Pamuk, Humeyra. “Turkish Lira Plunges to New Record Low in Asia Pacific Trade.” Reuters, 12 Aug. 2018.

[14] Özgentürk, Jale. “Dark Days Are on the Horizon for the Turkish Hazelnut.” Hurriyet Daily News, 1 Aug. 2018.

Image source: www.dailysabah.com

About the Author

Elanur Ural is a junior fellow at the ERA Institute. Her research interests include gender, resource politics, and Turkic Eurasia.


This article is produced by the Eurasian Research and Analysis Institute, Inc. (ERA Institute), a public, 501(c)(3) nonprofit institution devoted to studying Eurasian affairs. All views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).