Stevens Point, Wis. – Working in a fourth-floor lab in the Dan Trainer College of Natural Resources (CNR) Building, Heath Brandner deftly plucks a tiny American hazelnut plant from its growth medium. The robust little seedling, three weeks old, is ready for division and transplanting. Brandner carefully records information about the plant’s condition and marks and dates the transplant.

Brandner, a University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point forestry major, is working with Professor Mike Demchik on a research project that ultimately aims to develop American hazelnut strains for commercial production. The plants show promise as an oilseed crop – the nuts are more than 50 percent oil and similar to olive oil in health advantages. They also have potential as a biodiesel crop, but their value is much higher as a foodstuff, Demchik says. Either use has the potential to add a new income source for Wisconsin agriculture producers.

One research aspect is developing the protocol for propagating the plants. Heath’s part of the project is helping to determine the optimum interval for division and transplanting.

Brandner is a third-year student from Marshfield, Wis., and hopes to work in agroforestry after graduation. One of his goals in college was to gain laboratory experience as an undergraduate and he’s happy that the CNR provides such opportunities. “I’ve always wanted to do student research,” Brandner says, adding that he plans to present his work at the college’s annual research symposium on April 5.

Demchik’s research is supported in part by the Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology (WIST) at UW-Stevens Point, under its WIST Scholars program, which has provided funding for nearly a dozen projects since 2011. The program aims to foster creative ideas and solutions for businesses through collaborative work, targeting opportunities that promise environmental as well as economic gains.

student working in a laboratory

Stevens Point forestry major Heath Brandner transplants American hazelnut seedlings as part of a research project that aims to develop a new commercial opportunity for Wisconsin agricultural producers.