Thursday, November 8, 2012

2012 Post-Season Hops Grower Meeting-Notes
November 2, 2012
1:00 PM to 5:30 PM
Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center, Mills River, NC
1.       Welcome from Jeff Chandler, Director of the facility
2.       Introductions
3.       Brief explanation of our 2012 research
4.       Open discussion to share 2012 experiences
5.       Explanation of new grant and grower input
6.       Request for grower cooperators

The meeting was led by Jeanine Davis and Kelly Gaskill. There were 33 people in attendance, 12 of them via conference call.  Most were western North Carolina hop growers along with some potential NC hop growers, an out of state grower, extension agents and specialists, and a chemist.  A few people sent in information ahead of time to share.
Here are my notes from the meeting.  I know I didn’t capture everything, so if you were there and have things to add, send them to me and I will add them to the blog posts.  Since I will be sending these out to everyone on our email list and posting this on several blogs, I am not using names (in most cases), but those of you who were there will know who I am talking about.  Jeanine Davis
Update on the NCSU research hop yard in Mills River:
·       Whereas in 2011 this was the perfect hop yard, this year (2012) we were greatly challenged with downy mildew, Japanese beetles, and spider mites.
·        This is a quarter acre hop yard on a 20 foot tall trellis with a top wire that can be raised and lowered to facilitate management and harvest. There is drip-irrigation installed; tubing with emitters attached to the bottom wire. There is silt-fencing (black, polypropylene fabric) stapled to the ground on either side of the rhizomes for weed control. There are ten varieties planted in four replications in a randomized complete block design.
·       The NC Hops Project consisted of Jeanine Davis, in Horticultural Science, located in the mountains and Scott King and Rob Austin, Soil Science, located in Raleigh. They worked together for three years on this hops project with funding from the GoldenLeaf Foundation and a USDA Specialty Crops Block Grant through the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Rob and Scott maintained a short trellis research hop yard in Raleigh with ten varieties. This was its third year. Jeanine has the high trellis yard in the mountains. This was its second year. Scott has taken a new job and Rob is doing other things, so we are going to let the Raleigh hop yard go. We have two more years of (minimal) funding for the mountain research yard. We need input from this group about what is the best way to make use of this yard to serve the industry.
Discussion about cutting off the shoots in the spring. This is routinely done in the Pacific Northwest but we were all uncertain about this practice considering how far south we are located.  Comments from people at the meeting:
·       Small established WNC organic hop yard: Did spring cut back for the first time this year and will definitely do it from now on! They compared a cut-back row to a non-cut-back row and the difference was impressive. They plan to cut the shoots back in the spring until mid-April or so. They will use a weed-whacker to save labor.
·       Small established WNC hop yard: Did some experimental spring pruning but saw no difference. Don’t plan to do it; too labor intensive.
·       Large established WNC hop yard: In the past, have never cut the plants back below six inches above the ground. This year did not have time to cut back at all and saw no problems.  They used no insecticides at all this year. They do want to do some sub-soiling in the future because they have found the soil is getting very compacted around the rhizomes.
·       Medium sized established WNC hop yard: They do cut off the shoots every spring, but they question the timing. When should we start to let them grow? They are growing Chinook and Cascade.
·       This is definitely a topic for research! Most of the growers thought we needed to cut the shoots off until late April or May, but is that the best? Don’t have enough experience yet. Also, what is the best way to do this? Several people talked about using a weed whacker or a lawn mower, but won’t this spread disease?

Discussion about plant spacing:
·       Large established WNC hop yard: set their new planting of Cascades at 2 foot spacing in the row.
·       Medium sized established WNC hop yard: They originally set their rhizomes at 2 to 2.5 feet apart in the row. They might change that in the future.
·       General consensus seemed to be that 3 foot spacing in row is right for this area.

Discussion about crown maintenance:
·       One acre established hop yard in WNC: They mow the tops of the crowns off in early spring. But is that enough? Should we be doing some subsoiling, too?
·       Medium sized established KY hop yard: They use 5 mil black plastic mulch and drip irrigation (to fertigate with, too). This prevents late frost damage and gives good crown control.
·       In the Pacific Northwest, they have a machine that lightly rototills the top of the crown, just under the soil surface, and edges the plants.  Can we get something like that here?
·       Some of the growers have cut all around the crowns by hand with shovels. Lots of work. Don’t want to do it ever again. Question raised by several was, do we even need to do that here.  Some growers just mow between the rows and that seems to handle it.
·       This is a needed area for research and we should gather information from our Northeastern friends. What do they do?

Establishing new plants where old plants were:
·       Large established hop yard in WNC: They dug up the old plants with a track-hoe. 
·       Small established WNC organic hop yard: They dug up the plants with a tiller, removed what they could by hand, covered the area with plastic to solarize, then planted sweet potatoes there this year. Worked great, but keep in mind, they were really weak plants they were getting rid of.
·       Some growers dig what they can and then use RoundUp on any shoots that arise.
·       How much of a disease carryover risk is there?

Discussion about trellis types and height. Is shorter better than taller? Which is better for the Southeast region?  There was some discussion about the use of winches to raise and lower the top wire. The small established hop yard and the Mills River research hop yard both use winches and really like them. They use them to attach their strings in the spring and to lower to ease harvesting. They have weathered well so far. Someone asked if they could help with spraying the top of the bines. The general consensus was that was not a good idea because you would have trouble determining how much product was applied.
·       Medium sized established WNC hop yard: They are considering lowering their trellis. Will still use the high-trellis posts, but drop the top wire down a few feet.
·       Very small established home brewer WNC hop yard: She uses a pole and cattle panel structure that is working real well. She might make it taller in the future.
·       Medium sized established KY hop yard: Has nine foot and 18 foot tall trellises. The nine foot trellis does not give the yield the 18 foot one does. They are in their third year of production.
·       One acre established WNC hop yard: She has a 18 foot tall trellis with a fixed top wire. The yard is on a slope. Climbing up and down a ladder to manage the yard is difficult. There has to be a better way.
·       We had a great deal of discussion about how much hops produce when they start growing horizontally, as when they reach the top of a short trellis. There was no agreement here. Some growers said the plants put out more lateral growth then and produced more cones whereas others said cone growth was reduced when that happened. 

Daylength Concerns:  There was some discussion about the fact that we are really far south and our days are not optimum for hops production. Could we manipulate the plants by using strobe lights to interrupt the dark? What about day neutral varieties? None of us have found much information on this.

Discussion about irrigation:
·       Medium sized established WNC hop yard: They don’t have drip-irrigation and think that is a problem. They want to add it.
·       General consensus was that we need irrigation in this region and if you don’t have it, you should install it for next season. The research hop yard probably could have benefited from more water then they gave it this past year.  Hops need lots of water when they are actively growing. A drip irrigation system also allows the grower to run fertilizer through the drip-system.

Fertilization:  The work done by Scott King, Rob Austin, and Bill Yarborough resulted in fertility recommendations for hops in NC. The growers who have followed those recommendations say they work. Hops are heavy feeders. So, take a soil sample this fall, send it into NCDA&CS. There is a hops code (119) on the soil test form. They will send specific recommendations for hops based on your soil test. Those soil tests are still free in NC for NC growers. Growers from out of state can use the service but have to pay a fee.

Discussion about stripping the foliage off the bottom of the plants for disease control:
·       Small established WNC organic hop yard: did not strip off as much foliage as in the past. This allowed for more lateral growth. They got lateral production all the way down the bines and subsequently more cone production.
·       Large established WNC hop yard: They use an organic contact herbicide to strip the foliage off the lower part of the bines.
·       One acre established WNC hop yard: Goats do a pretty good job of keeping the lower part of the bines stripped.

Harvesting and yields:
·       Small established WNC organic hop yard: Even after five years, still only getting about a half pound wet per plant. They think the low yield is related to their short trellis.
·       Small established WNC hop yard: He planted 12 varieties in a raised bed type planter in front of a local brewery this spring. They harvested 57 pounds of wet hops off of those 12 plants! Three of the plants produced seven pounds each.
·       Medium size established WNC hop yard: He wants to get a half pound dried per plant or about 1.5 pounds wet. He also questions whether it is cost effective to do multiple hand pickings of these hops as most of the growers in the room do.
·       Mills River research hop yard: We would love to do a study and compare the quality of hops that are hand harvested multiple times at their peak of maturity versus once over harvests when most of the cones are mature but some are under mature and others are over mature. Is the quality better with the multiple harvests? And if yes, will buyers pay a premium for them?
·       Large established WNC hop yard: They do a once over harvest and bring the harvested bines into a building where they hand pick off the cones. Have it down to an assembly line style and it is pretty efficient. They ordered a picker for that process but it didn’t arrive in time and when it did arrive it was damaged. Hopefully they will get to test it out next year.
·       General consensus was that we need to get at least one pound of wet hops per plant and would like to see more like four!

Varieties and buying plants:
·       Medium sized established KY hop yard: Zeus does great; in the third year of production.
·       Large young mid-state NC hop yard: When they order rhizomes, they have to have the over-night shipped or they start to break down.
·       We would like to look at some day-neutral varieties.
·       The Mills River research hop yard is trying to purchase tissue culture propagated material for 2013.
·       Medium sized established KY hop yard: Has not had a significant problem with Japanese beetles.
·       Small established WNC organic hop yard: They did one spray this year for Japanese beetles only. They are now convinced that the less you can spray the better off you will be. They think excessive spraying kills off lots of beneficial insects.  They released predatory mites in 2011.
·       One acre established WNC hop yard: Chickens allowed to roam through the hop yard do a great job of controlling Japanese beetles and other insects.
·       The Mills River research hop yard is establishing farmscaping to help maintain habitat for beneficial insects and predatory mites.
Downy Mildew:
·       Small established WNC organic hop yard: They have never had Downy Mildew. Their yard is located on a steep slope at high elevation and there is a continuous breeze (wind) blowing through the yard. During the first four years of production, they used preventative sprays and now they wonder if that was a good idea or not. The entomologists have told them that fungicides can flare mite populations and in the past they have had lots of mites. So this year they did not spray for Downy Mildew and they didn’t get Downy Mildew and they didn’t have a spider mite problem.  They reminded everyone that spraying hops is difficult and expensive.
·       Large established WNC hop yard: They remove all plants that are heavily infected with Downy Mildew. They have done some spraying with phosphoric acid but they have to be very careful about what time of day they spray because it can severely burn the foliage. They have also used Regalia and Sonata.
·       The Mills River research hop yard: Could not get on top of the Downy Mildew this year no matter what they did or sprayed.
Collaborative Efforts:
·       Large established WNC hop yard: They have a grinder, pelletizer, picker, and will have a lab before next season. They would like to work with other growers to help process their cones.
·       Large established WNC hop yard: We can work together on ordering plants. Especially from tissue culture operations who want large orders.
·       Large young mid-state NC hop yard: There are efforts underway in their region to put in a cooperative pelletizer. This is with the Chamber of Commerce and Yadkin Valley Community College.
Marketing: Can we form a hop cooperative and work together to sell our hops?
·       Small established WNC hop yard: He got a call from a Brooklyn brewery that wants to buy NC hops.  Call Matthew Kaye at 310-995-6973.
·       Large young mid-state NC hop yard: They had a decent season production wise but they are having some trouble working with local breweries. They need to find out how much browning of the cones is acceptable. They think they culled too much out this year.
·       Hops ‘n Blueberry Farm has buyers for fresh hops.
·       One idea was to start making our own selections.
·       How many bines should be trained per string?  In the Yakima Valley they do four, hoping 2-3 will take. Within our group, it ranged from 3 to 7. Some people noticed lower yields when 5-7 bines were used.
·       There are ten varieties in the Mills River research yard. Remove the four poor producers and add some new varieties. The variety research has been very useful.  Varieties that should be tested include the day neutral varieties from South Africa and the dwarf variety, Summit.
Looking for Cooperators; coir twine may be part of the deal:
·       We, Jeanine and Kelly, are looking for some new on-farm cooperators to share their experiences, yields, soil tests, etc. so we can continue to build a database of information for this industry.  This will allow us to refine fertility recommendations and enterprise budgets and write a production guide based on real world experiences for the Southeast.  We don’t have grant funding to pay farmers to be cooperators, but we have a bale of coir twine and perhaps we can work a mutually beneficial arrangement involving some of that.  Contact us if you are interested.
Recorded by Jeanine Davis, NCSU