Northland College in Ashland has joined a public-private partnership designed to accelerate the development of hazelnuts as an agricultural product found in wild form throughout the region.

The college will join with the American Hazelnut Co., Bayfield Foods Cooperative, the UW-Extension service and the University of Wisconsin’s Biological Systems Engineering department to undertake a two-year program to develop cost-efficient systems for the processing of hazelnuts and heart-healthy products made from them.

Jason Fischbach, a woody food crop specialist for UW-Extension, is coordinating the development work in the Northland College kitchen, working with processing devices development by the UW Biological Systems Engineering faculty and staff at UW-Madison.

Fischbach experimented with the first batch of hazelnuts last month at the Hulings Rice Food Center at Northland College.

The college is hulling, shelling and cleaning the hazelnuts. The American Hazelnut Co. in Gays Mills will do the final processing, transforming hazelnuts into gluten-free nuts, oil and flour.

Hybrid hazelnuts, developed from the sturdy rootstock of bushes that have thrived in the Upper Midwest for generations, have been winning increasing favor among farmers and orchardists for their potential to become an important new agricultural product.

Terms of the multi-partner collaboration were negotiated by Northland College President Michael Miller, who called it “a perfect fit” for the college’s mission to combine liberal arts disciplines and the study of the relevant environment and sustainable agribusiness systems.

“Hazelnuts are an important food crop in more than a dozen countries around the world,” Miller said. “We at Northland want to help develop a competitive hazelnut industry here in the Upper Midwest.”

The American Hazelnut Co., now two years old, will shift its experimental processing work to the new commercial food center on the Northland campus, supported by related work at the facilities of the 22-member Bayfield Area Food Co-op in nearby Bayfield County.

The company, which produces gluten-free nuts, oil and flour, will concentrate on finished product development and marketing from its existing facilities at the Kickapoo Culinary Center in Gays Mills. AHC is a grower-owned company with investors in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.