From hazel­nut to cot­ton

Turk­ish agri­cul­ture has lots to offer. With prod­ucts such as hazel­nuts, figs or sul­tanas, Turkey is a glob­al leader in pro­duc­tion. Look­ing at the whole indus­try shows an impres­sive vari­ety of prod­ucts, where­as many regions con­cen­trate on grow­ing only one spe­cif­ic crop.

Blue shim­mer­ing light set­tles in the ear­ly evening over the moun­tains of the Cumay­eri region in the Düzce province. Hazel­nuts are thriv­ing wher­ev­er you look. After sev­er­al days of rain, farm­ers have put back the hazel­nut har­vest again. Anoth­er two dry weeks and the har­vest will be over in this region by the end of Sep­tem­ber. To the right and left, you can see work­ers on the slopes, har­vest­ing from the mul­ti-stemmed, dense and high-grow­ing bush­es. Lots of hands are on deck, gath­er­ing togeth­er the hazel­nuts which have fall­en onto the humus-rich ground in order to trans­port them to the har­vester with a suc­tion device. The Find­ik Mac­ci­na, which means some­thing sim­i­lar to hazel­nut machine, sep­a­rates the nuts pneu­mat­i­cal­ly by agi­tat­ing them away from their brown-leaved shells. Small leaf frag­ments are flung high into the air whilst the hazel­nuts are tossed into the jute sacks. The air smells nut­ty and earthy.


A grav­el path leads to the Ak family’s farm in Üvez­be­li. Short­ly before, hazel­nuts from a neigh­bour­ing farm were laid out on some open ground to dry. The small neigh­bour­hood is around 500m above sea lev­el, hous­es 105 farm­ing fam­i­lies and has a mosque. Jusuf and his son, Vedat, greet us warm­ly.
Next to a shed, in front of which there is a trac­tor and their own Find­ik Mac­ci­na, which the fam­i­ly also uses for con­tract work at oth­er farms, fresh­ly-picked beans from the gar­den have been laid out to dry. Behind their house, the wall of which fea­tures a large poster of the Turk­ish pres­i­dent and the roof has a large satel­lite dish, there is a small sta­ble, in which a cow, a heifer, two bulls, and a calf are housed.

Hazel­nut grow­er Jusuf Ak on his farm.

But back to the hazel­nuts. They are the Ak family’s source of income, which is also the case for many thou­sand Turk­ish farm­ers in the moist sum­mer warmth of the moun­tain­ous Black Sea region, which extends for almost 1000km from Düzce to Tra­b­zon. More than 60% of hazel­nuts pro­duced across the world are grown here.
Jusuf’s broth­er, Mehmet Ak, is also active in this sec­tor. As well as his farm, he also runs a hazel­nut col­lec­tion point oppo­site the mosque. Large jute sacks are stacked in stor­age. Farm­ers arrive with trac­tors and full trail­ers; pri­vate pro­duc­ers bring small­er quan­ti­ties. Every sack of hazel­nuts is sam­pled. Appear­ance, flavour and mois­ture are eval­u­at­ed here. Mehmet Ak sits hap­pi­ly behind a large desk, drink­ing tea, and decides on the price.


Around 600km fur­ther to the south-west, in the province of Man­isa, hazel­nuts are not impor­tant at all. Here, sev­er­al types of fruit vari­eties like grapes, cher­ries, peach­es, mel­ons, as well as veg­eta­bles, spices, grain maize and cot­ton dom­i­nate farm­ing in the wide val­leys, which are sur­round­ed by snowy moun­tain ranges in win­ter. Tem­per­a­tures are high­er here than in the Black Sea region, there is much low­er rain­fall and not much suc­ceeds with­out irri­ga­tion. While the cot­ton har­vest starts in Octo­ber, grain maize is har­vest­ed in the sur­round­ing area of Man­isa in Sep­tem­ber. This is the same on Ahmed Havaleoglu’s land. A lor­ry is wait­ing at the edge of the field to trans­port the gold-yel­low har­vest to the mill. Neigh­bour­ing fields are home to vines and there is a small field for grow­ing mel­ons. The mel­ons were sown by farmer Ismail Keskin from Haci­haliller, which is to the south east of the town of Man­isa, into the stub­ble at the start of July.

By the bas­ket load sul­tanas are trans­port­ed from the field to pro­cess­ing loca­tions.

In addi­tion to wheat and pump­kins, Keskin is also plant­i­ng grapes. The light and seed­less grapes from the sul­tana vine are used for the pro­duc­tion of sul­tanas, a spe­cial type of raisins for which the Man­isa region is famous. The dif­fer­ence between raisins and sul­tanas lies only in the dry­ing method. In con­trast to raisins, sul­tanas are not dried in the sun for so long. There­fore they have a lighter skin. The lighter, the bet­ter. Some pro­duc­ers there­fore dip the grapes in a solu­tion made from potash and plant oil, which dis­solves the fine waxy lay­er on the skin and accel­er­at­ing the dry­ing process.

Pri­mar­i­ly female Kur­dish work­ers spread the har­vest­ed sul­tanas out to dry in the already-har­vest­ed wheat and pump­kin fields. After five to 10 days, the women col­lect the fruits togeth­er, which have lost around 85% of their mois­ture and shake them by the bas­ket load into sta­tion­ary siev­ing machines, which sep­a­rate the sweet har­vest from the stalks and leaves. Con­vey­or belts move the puri­fied sul­tanas onto lor­ries, where the har­vest helpers share them out with shov­els.


Mod­ern cot­ton har­vest­ing machines are avail­able here.

While the pro­duc­tion of sul­tanas, chilli, table grapes, okra (lady’s fin­gers) and mel­ons is over­whelm­ing­ly still cared for by fam­i­ly farms, the cot­ton sec­tor is con­trolled by larg­er enter­pris­es. In the Men­e­men area, north of Izmir, lots of cot­ton is grown. The 26 year-old İlk­er İyi­u­yarlar runs a John Deere deal­er­ship with his father and uncle, as well as grow­ing 300ha of cot­ton. Pick­ing by hand, which is still wide­ly prac­tised in the cot­ton region around the town of San­li­ur­fa, 1300km fur­ther to the east, was almost com­plete­ly mech­a­nised here some years ago. Mod­ern cot­ton har­vest­ing machines are lined up ready to use on their own land, but also to do con­tract­ing work.

The cot­ton is sep­a­rat­ed from the seed in their own de-seed­ing facil­i­ty. This fetch­es, con­tin­ues İyi­u­yarlar “with piles of 28 to 30mm, good prices on the cot­ton mar­ket in Izmir.” He did not go for organ­ic farm­ing “because the stan­dards are high and start­ing this way of farm­ing would only be worth it if prices were twice as high.”

Organ­ic cot­ton farm­ing would only be worth it if prices were twice as high.

İlk­er İyi­u­yarlar

The crop rota­tion is answer­ing more to the econ­o­my than to the fer­til­i­ty of the soil. Only after five years of cot­ton is anoth­er crop plant­ed, which is gen­er­al­ly wheat. Even if İyi­u­yarlar choos­es to con­tin­ue his cur­rent grow­ing strat­e­gy, things will be chang­ing soon in terms of ener­gy sup­ply. The fam­i­ly is plan­ning to build a pho­to­volta­ic sys­tem, which will be installed onto a 1.5ha sized area of roof­ing. “With this, we will be able to take care of a large part of our own ener­gy use,” he says, look­ing for­ward to the new era.

Ambi­tious Goals

Busi­ness peo­ple such as İyi­u­yarlar ensure that agri­cul­ture pro­vides a strong eco­nom­ic sup­port for the Turk­ish nation­al econ­o­my. Near­ly 25% of all work­ers find employ­ment in the agri­cul­tur­al sec­tor, which forms almost 10% of the Gross Nation­al Prod­uct. How­ev­er, urban­i­sa­tion is also sig­nif­i­cant here: Now, almost three quar­ters of the pop­u­la­tion live in towns. Lots of small oper­a­tions do not have some­one to inher­it the farm and thus there is a very dynam­ic trend of struc­tur­al change towards larg­er com­pa­nies.

Hazel­nuts: Thriv­ing in warm weath­er

The fat­ty hazel­nut is a per­ma­nent crop cul­ti­vat­ed over many years. On some Turk­ish farms, hazel­nut fields can date back 80 to 100 years. How­ev­er, the pro­duc­tiv­i­ty of the shrubs decreas­es after 40 to 50 years, which is why many famers dig up their hazel­nut shrubs when they reach this age and plant again. The hazel­nut requires well-aired and humus-rich soil and thrives par­tic­u­lar­ly in places which are warm in the sum­mer and moist. Both the weath­er, as well as the age of the plant, the height above sea lev­el and the vari­ety all influ­ence the pro­duc­tiv­i­ty of the har­vest, which varies from between 400kg up to 3t/ha.