For a long time, hazel bush in Serbia was considered a forest plant. However, as of recently, farmers have started growing hazel bush especially for industrial use and as seedlings. The Ministry of Agriculture says that almost two thirds of the Serbian land is ideal for growing hazelnuts.
In December, what remains to be seen is whether we are going to transition from an importer to a competitive market player once the cooperation with the Italian company Ferrero commences. Ferrero plans to educate farmers and buy hazelnut from them for its confectionary production.
Back in the day, the slopes of the Leskovac ravine were covered in hazel bush which is how the town got its name. Today, hazelnut orchards are few and far between here.
In the village of Ždeglova, near Lebane, Slavko Đokić planted hazel bush 13 years ago. His yield, from five hectares, was 6.5 tonnes and, as he says, it has doubled from last year thanks to irrigation.
Despite the fact that investments are so high and that the wait for the first produce is very long, experts recommend growing hazel bush.
“What we have noticed is that many new orchards have emerged. This year, we saw several of them that are very well maintained and farmed and this is one of the indicators that there are excellent agri-technical conditions for growing hazel bush”, says Jovica Đonović, Agronomy Professor.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture’s estimates, hazel bush is currently planted on approximately 1,200 hectares of land in Serbia. The aim is to encourage farmers to grow quality Italian hazelnut especially in the Toplički, Pčinjski and Pirotski counties, as well as in Srem and a part of Bačka county.
“The Ministry grants subsidies to future hazelnut farmers for purchasing seedlings, and for covering the costs of the chemical analysis of the land. The subsidies can go up to 2 million Dinars”, says Kolinda Hrehorović from the Ministry of Agriculture. “Investments are substantial, and the return is a long way off, at least between five and seven years”, Đokić adds.
After Turkey, the Italians are the second biggest producers of hazelnut in the world. The Ferrero Company, the producer of the world-famous Nutella, has put Serbia on its investment map.
“The Ferrero Company is aware of Serbia’s excellent agri-ecological conditions for growing hazel bush and they want to help with planting as many hazel bushes as possible on your territory. Their investment format entails buying hazelnut from domestic producers while training and advising them how to improve their production and which varieties to grow”, says Marco Leone, the First Secretary for Economic Affairs in the Italian Embassy.
At the moment, the production of hazelnut in Serbia covers only 10% of the required quantities. The rest is imported mostly from Turkey with the annual export amounting up to €10 million.
Confectionary industry is the biggest buyer of hazelnut in the world. 75% of all hazelnuts end up in their products with Ferrero’s share standing at 27%.
This post is also available in: Italiano