The end of organic hop production?

Heather, Roger (who is hosting the majority of our hops research), and I just returned from a trip to the Yakima Valley in Washington, a trip whose purpose was to connect with hop growers and researchers from all over the country. Many fascinating things were seen and learned while we were there, tales of which I shall regale you with in the months to come. Of particular interest at this point in time was the acquaintance formed with Patrick Smith and his brother Kevin, of Loftus Ranches. Patrick is the Vice President of the American Organic Hop Grower Association.

I don’t know if you’ve heard the latest buzz about the USDA National Organic Standards Board and organic hops? The long and short of the story is that currently hops are on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, under section 205.606, meaning that beer labeled “organic” can and does include conventionally grown hops. Organic beer does not mean organic hops. Hops were put on the National List in June 2007 when organic hops were mostly produced overseas, primarily in New Zealand and Europe. Since that time, American growers have made significant advances in the area of organic hop production, to the point where the AOHGA, in coalition with Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Anheuser-Busch, Lakefront Brewery, Seven Bridges Cooperative, and Hopunion LLC, petitioned the USDA to remove hops from the National List in December of 2009.

Earlier in September, the Handling Committee of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) voted 6 – 0 to leave hops on the National List, stating that “On the basis of written and public comment in response to this petition to remove, organic hops were deemed not to be available in the form, quantity, or quality to currently justify removal from 205.606. To do so would negatively impact the organic brewing industry.” They also said that “although some varieties of hops were available as organic, not all varieties are equal, and many varieties used for specific flavor profiles or beer types were not available.” This suggests that all 150 hop varieties must be available organically before the NOSB will consider removing hops from the National List. Keep in mind, of course, that not all barley varieties are available organically (nor is this true for a multitude of organic crops), and yet organic barley is required in organic beer. Quite simply, for a grower to commit to growing all hop varieties organically, without a market to sell to, would be neither economical nor logistically feasible.

The NOSB is meeting on October 25th and 27th in Madison, WI to pass final judgment on this issue for the foreseeable future.  The AOHGA is asking that hops be phased off of the National List. Abrupt removal would negatively impact both the breweries and the growers, since the acreage currently committed to organic production is not enough to meet organic brewing demands. Phasing hops off of the list would not only give the growers a chance to meet the production demands, but also to meet the varietal demands. Currently, since no one is demanding organic hops, growers don’t know what varieties are of greatest interest to organic breweries.

Both the AOHGA and Patrick’s blog outline the situation far better than I could, and I encourage you to check them out for further information.

Wondering what you can do? Leave a written comment for the NOSB, the deadline for written comments is October 12th.

Alternatively, if you’re going to be in Madison, Wisconsin on Monday, October 25th or Wednesday, October 27th… The NOSB will be hearing in-person comments. Contact Lisa Ahramjian at or (202) 720-3252 to reserve a 5-minute slot, making note of your desired date and topic. The deadline is Tuesday, October 12, 2010.

Study up!

To quote the Gorst Valley guys on the Hops 101 and 201 courses “The 101 class throws information at the participants so fast it is compared to drinking from a fire hose.  So to continue the analogy, 201 is like bellying up to the water tower itself.”  Study up for the  courses by reviewing Jason Perrault’s presentation and transcript from the UVM Extension Winter Hops Conference: Hopping to It!

Also, for those of you who may have missed our recent hops field days, we presented some research that Dylan Badger and yours truly did on organic fungicides and hops.

Northeast Hop Alliance Presents Hops 101 and 201 Courses

Saturday-Sunday, October 9 and 10, 2010
Fenimore Art Museum
5798 State Highway 80
Cooperstown, NY 13326
Hops 101-Introductory Level

$95 for Northeast Hop Alliance (NeHA) members, $115 for non-NeHA members
Hops 201- Technical Production Workshop
(Must have taken Hops 101 or have 200 hills to register)
$245 for NeHA members, $295 for non-NeHA members
Courses begin at 8am SHARP to 5pm
Coffee and lunch included
Course is lead by Gorst Valley Hops Educators
To register contact: Lindsey McDonnell, 315-684-3001 ext. 125
Registration is limited.
Sign up today to reserve your spot!
For more information and to become a NeHA member visit
Topics for Hops 101 include: History of Hop Production, Botany & Horticulture, Market Analysis, Plantation Infrastructure, Plant Nutrition, Hop Drying and Hop Processing Overview.
Topics for Hops 201 include: Plant Physiology & Development, Plantation Calendar, Soil Chemistry & Plant Nutrition, IPM Strategies, Disease Identification & Remediation, Irrigation Scheduling and Detailed Hop Drying.

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Hops are Hip

Please join us for this exciting on-farm workshop focusing on hops production and using small grains for brewing!

Location: Four Star Farms
496 Pine Meadow Road, Northfield, MA
Hosts: Gene & Bonnie L’Etoile
Date: August 20, 2010
Time: 11:00 am—3:00 pm
Click here to download pdf version of this brochure.

Please join us on Friday, August 20th at Four Star Farms in Northfield, MA for a tour of Gene and Bonnie L’Etoile’s hopyard. Discussions will be held on the logistics of brewing with local ingredients, with particular focus lent toward growing hops and malting grains in the Northeast. The UVM Extension Northwest Crops and Soils Team will be there to comment on their trials using organic fungicides on hops, discuss the level of interest in local hops as reported by area breweries, and highlight some of the complexities faced by growing hops in a humid climate. Attention will also be devoted to the logistics of growing malting quality grains in the Northeast. Local hop growers will come together and schmooze about what has and has not worked for them in their hopyard, toss around ideas for improving production practices, and talk about obstacles they have faced from a marketing perspective. Local brewers will discuss what kind of quality parameters they want in their brewing ingredients and how local products can be presented in the most appealing manner.

Cost of attendance is $15. Lunch will be provided by the NOFA-VT pizza oven.

Please RSVP* by August 13th by contacting Heather Darby or Rosalie Madden at 802-524-6501

*If you require accommodations to participate in this program, please let our office know by August 13th so that we may assist you.
Directions: Take exit 28 from I-91 in Massachusetts onto MA-10, and travel north for about 4.5 miles to Rt 63. Turn right on Rt 63 (south) and follow for 2.6 miles to Pine Meadow Rd. Turn right on Pine Meadow and follow for about 1.5 miles. The farm is on the right.

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Many thanks to our sponsors for their generous support!
Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources
USDA- Risk Management Agency
Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets

May 14, 2010

I know I promised many of you that we would make the presentations public from our March 26th Hops Conference: Hopping To It.  Please allow me to assure you that that is still our intention, and it is still in the works.  I won’t bore you with the details (processing large video files, etc.), but we hope to have it available soon.  Stay tuned!

In the meantime, a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Gatineau, QC for a hops workshop, hosted by our friends at CREDETAO.    The workshop was presented by Julien Venne, an agronomist from the CREDETAO team, and Dr. Ron Godin, an agronomist from Colorado State University who has been working with hops for the last ten years or so.  Check out the section on “Links to Hops Articles” on our Hops page to a hops trellising and budget presentation that Edward Page did with Ron a few years ago.

In Quebec, they might be a bit ahead of us in terms of local beer…  They’ve already got a few completely local beers like La Rur’ale, and they have had some really exciting developments on the malthouse front too.  Check out Malt de Maltbroue, a farm that malts their own barley.  (Sorry, in French…)

The CREDETAO team is doing a variety trial similar to what we will be doing in Alburgh.  They planted their rhizomes last year, and are trialing 10 varieties: Cascade, Brewer’s Gold, Northern Brewer, Hallertau, Kent Golding, Willamette, Mt. Hood, Nugget, Tettnanger, and Hersbrucker.  Since they are conducting research in a similar climate to ours, and are looking at some of the same varieties, the knowledge and insight that they gather will be invaluable.  As many of you already know, most of the hops production in the US is in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, and cultivated in large monocultures under dry conditions, something that we don’t really have here in the Northeast.  We are expecting different disease patterns here due to our high humidity and rainfall, and probably fewer of the hop specific pests.  For example, in Quebec, they have seen problems with corn borers – not a pest that normally threatens hopyards in the Pacific Northwest, but a common pest that invades the corn fields in our region.  This little guy apparently likes hops too.  Iowa State has some good pictures of the European corn borer, so you’ll know what to look for.  As of yet, the corn borer hasn’t been observed to limit production to any large extent, but the potential is there…forewarned is forearmed.  Keep your eyes peeled!  In the Quebec variety trial, they’ve also had powdery mildew (on Tettnanger, Hallertau, and Hersbrucker), what they suspect was downy mildew (the worst hit were Mt. Hood, Tettnanger, Hallertau, and Northern Brewer, the first two which are supposed to be moderately resistant to downy mildew), aphids, mites, and hops looper.

Some counsel that the Quebec team gave, which is worth mentioning:

  • Make sure you have all the right equipment before setting out.  Check out our video on the important materials that you’ll need for a hopyard, featuring Roger Rainville of Borderview Research Farm, where much of our research is hosted.  As you will see, Alburgh is a windy place, so we’ve subtitled the last bit of the video where you can’t hear Roger very well.
  • Wait until the field is completely dry before working it up.
  • Choose a site with deep soil.  It’s pretty hard to bury posts in bedrock, and you want to be able to go at least 3 feet down.
  • If it’s a warm or early spring, plant directly in the soil, but if you have a greenhouse, it’s a bit of a time saver to transplant the rhizomes from pots and train them all in one go.
  • It will take one or two days per acre with a minimum of 4 people to lay out the sisal, and it’s best to anchor as you tie, otherwise you’ll be chasing after strings that are blowing in the wind.
  • Lay out your irrigation lines as soon as possible.

And allow me to add one more: Soil test!!!  As the saying goes: don’t guess, soil test.  Proper soil health and nutrition is invaluable to maximizing yields and fending off pest and disease pressure.  Look forward to the following post on how to take and read a soil test.

March 18, 2010

Greetings Folks! Rosalie Madden here, your household hop enthusiast and dedicated researcher.

Welcome to the first post on the What’s Hoppening Blog. This is one of the mediums (media?) through which we will be conveying the latest on our research, regional hoppy news, pest warnings, fun factoids, and other interesting tidbits. There will probably be some corny jokes too, but, well, that’s how I roll. You’ll just have to bear with.

A quick background on who we are and what we’re doing… Dr. Heather Darby got involved with hops when Dr. Steve Jones from the University of Washington, her friend and collaborator on many projects, asked her if she wanted to partner on a grant. Despite not knowing anything about hops, she agreed, and UVM Extension was awarded some funds to do an organic variety trial in Vermont from the USDA, under the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative. Through this initiative we will be planting a variety trial at our research farm where we will be evaluating 20 varieties. Please stay tuned for videos of us erecting our hopyard. Our objective is to find the varieties that do well in our climate in terms of yield and resistance to diseases and pests, while presenting desirable brewing characteristics to our many local breweries. We are also doing a cover cropping study to evaluate the effects cover cropping treatments have on two hop varieties, looking at everything from nutrient management to yield impacts to beneficial insect habitat. Heather and her team, including rather obviously, yours truly, are now also working in cooperation with the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture to determine the viability of hops in our region outside of pure agronomics, looking at harvesting logistics, packaging techniques, and the complexities around storage. We are also working with Rose Wilson, a consultant with the MA and VT Agencies of Ag to evaluate the economies of scale of hops production.

We are currently gearing up for our first Winter Hops Conference: Hopping To It, hosted by the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, VT. We had some unexpected interest in the event, thanks to an article appearing in the Burlington Free Press on March 12.  Despite our best efforts, we had to cap attendance. We will be recording the proceedings however, and they should be up on our website soon after the event. This conference is a follow up on our Hops Advisory Meeting that we held back in October 2009 at Four Star Farms in Massachusetts. Gene and Bonnie L’Etoile graciously hosted us, and we had area growers and brewers convene to discuss the future of hops production in the northeast. Growers outlined what they have been doing, and the problems that they have been facing. It seems that harvesting is really the most limiting infrastructural facet of production. Gene L’Etoile said that it took him two man weeks to harvest 150 plants at 1-1.5 lbs/plant… That averages out to a little bit over 2 lbs of hops picked per hour. It’s pretty hard to turn a profit at that rate. With this in mind, we at Extension, along with Rose Wilson, have started to look into some old hop picker patents from the mid-century and earlier. We’ve come up with a few designs that we think are viable, with the help of the Hingstons from Cherry Hill Farm, Ben Butterfield, James Rowe, and Hugo Gervais. (Hopefully we’ll have some prototypes up and running by the time we have to harvest our 540 research bines.)

When asked, many brewers said that they were interested in local hops, particularly aroma varieties. Some area breweries have been making batches with fresh wet hops, but as the supply is seasonal, they point out that they can usually only do one or two brews per year, and well, they need to brew all year long. Al Marzi from Harpoon points out that while his brewery uses 120,000 lbs of hops a year, only 1,200 lbs of that are wet hops. Generally breweries use pelletized hops, but pelletizing is a challenging art. Pelletizers usually heat up to levels high enough to degrade lupulin (pretty much anything over 130-140°F), reducing the quality of the hop – yet another challenge that we are devoting time and resources to. Solutions forthcoming, we hope.

At our October meeting, we also talked about the advantages and the appeal of marketing local beer. Our local breweries market a specialty product, aimed at a niche market. With the boom of the localvore movement, we believe that a strictly local beer (check out our research on barley) will be heralded by wide acclaim and laudatory remarks. Ever heard of terroir? From French, it roughly translates to “sense of place.” Hops, like wine grapes, will produce a different product that varies according to microclimate and soil type. If we were to plant a rhizome here from a Hallertau bine, straight out of the Hallertau Valley in Germany, it would not produce the same ratio of alpha to beta acids as the parent plant, nor meet other defining characteristics, even though they are genetically identical. This opens the door for producing a strictly regional hop, grown only for our brewers, not to be found anywhere else in the world. Kind of an interesting and exciting prospect…

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