Tom, Turkey And NCR discussed on The Indicator from Planet Money

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Today is a very good day. Because today Darius we get to talk about new Tele Finally, I mean, I love new Tele I know you love new Bella. I mean, everybody loves new talents to love. But by supply of this beloved embrose, you'll chocolate paste, you could be under threat Stacey. And it's because of something that gives new Tele its characteristic flavor hazelnuts. Yes, he's nuts. Have a problem. A serious supply bottleneck more than seventy percent of the world's hazelnuts come from one place from Turkey. In fact, a quarter of the world's as on. That's come from just this one tiny town in Turkey, and that of course, leaves production and new Tele lovers everywhere very vulnerable. Right. I mean just a few years ago. There was an unexpected frost and Turkey that wiped out a huge chunk of the crop. And prices jumped like sixty percent and threatened a worldwide. Tele shortage that's like the fifth horseman of the apocalypse pestilence. Plague no new tell. And I mean, even in the best of times Turkey is, you know, a little bit of an unreliable Rulli. Turkish lira goes up and down the price of hazelnuts can fluctuate accordingly, and it, you know, it just leaves Packers and producers on the hook. But luckily for us one man is on the case today the show how one man's lifelong obsession with easel. Nets could help save new Tele and revolutionized an entire global industry. Support for this podcast and the following message come from zoom when you can't be there in person zoom zoom is used by millions to connect face to face one easy platform for all your communication needs. Visit zoom online to set up your free account today. Meet happy with zoom. Support. Also comes from NC are running a small business is now easier with NC are silver more than a point of sale. NCR silver is simple to use saves. You time and helps you reach your goals faster NCR, silver, search NCR silver. I I met biologists. Tom Molnar in his office at the Rutgers University ornamental field lab, he was surrounded by these big plastic Finns just filled with thousands upon thousands of pavements. For example, here's one that has has ridges and lumps and to me. That's that's kind of an ugly looking hazelnut. Whereas something like this here, the really, shiny. And smooth for the past twenty three years. This has been Tom's life. Just sifting through endless piles of hazelnuts in search of that one perfect. Now, we mentioned that the hazelnut industry has a supply problem Turkey has a stranglehold on production. So the obvious solution to that problem would be to find a new place to grow hazelnuts and the east coast of the United States would be perfect perfect growing conditions, except for one thing we would have had a hazelnut industry in the northeast. If it wasn't for eastern Filbert play eastern Filbert plight. It's a fungal disease. It's native to North America. And it it grows under the bark of hazelnut trees, and kind of rots them from the inside infected trees, they develop these tail till cankers on their bark Tom actually took me out to his research orchard and showed me some of them firsthand. So as we look down here, you'll see that there's little fuss Joel's that poke out through. So those are like little mushrooms, those are the fruiting bodies where the scores. Actually be objected from and spread to other trees fruiting body, fungal pustule, go from new talent fruiting bodies. This fungus has been Tom's sworn nemesis for twenty three years that was when he got involved in this ambitious project to develop hazelnuts as this sort of like utopian post climate change food source. Yes. Because hazelnuts in addition to being delicious are this kind of miracle crop there. What is known as a low input crop. Meaning they can grow without irrigation without chemical fertilizers pesticides. And they can grow on. What is called marginal land? Landa would otherwise be useless. Plus, the harvesting of hazelnuts can be mechanized. So it doesn't necessarily require that much labor and a single hazelnut. Tree can be productive for up to a hundred years. The only problem they needed to solve to make this happen to cover the east coast with hazelnut. Trees was eastern Filbert blight and Tom's plan to do that was based on very simple yet revolu. Idea. See his aunts. They've grown naturally all over eastern Europe and central Asia for thousands of years. And so Tom figured that somewhere out there among the many millions of hazelnut trees, the gene for disease resistance that he needed was hiding like a needle in a massive haystack. So he set out to find that gene, we started in Moscow travelled south going through Krasnodar into Sochi and then into Crimea than we flew up to Romania and Moldova. The Poland and Belarus follow that up through the Baltic states Estonia, Latvia Lithuania for seven years, Tom traveled, all over the native hazelnut range collecting specimens, and this was not your typical horticultural fieldwork. I mean, it could involve everything from like haggling with merchants in a bizarre and who's Becca STAN to like sharing a glass of homemade vodka with little old lady at a roadside stand in Crimea once while crossing into Ukraine with eighty pounds of nuts in his suitcase. He. Even got shaken down by the local police they start screaming at me. They start screaming at my colleagues have guns, and this is silly. But at the same time, I had a suitcase full of all the nuts that I so desperately did not want to lose. So I'm nervous about the nuts. I'm nervous. We're gonna get robbed or worse. But you were more worried about the nuts than the money. I was very nervous about the nuts. Those were my babies. Those were his babies band is is really Portas heart and soul into this project. And he knew that in order to make a commercially viable nut. He needed that perfect combination of traits. And so after years of collecting all this genetic material he came back to New Jersey out to his research farm at Rutgers and he got to work breeding. Yeah. Apparently, Tom planted thousands of trees, and then expose them to the eastern Filbert blight and then just waited and season by season. He meticulously catalogued the growth of each individual tree. Taking note of you know, nut quality looking out for signs of disease.

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