Harvest has begun

Last Thursday (8/31) we began to harvest Centennial, followed by Cascade and Columbus. While those were the first varieties in, they are also some of our top yielding varieties this year. Our Hopster 5P is working quite well, and depending on the species and size of the plant, we can see very clean (low leaf material) hops coming out of the machine. We've built a small-scale drier to bring the moisture down to the required amount, and it is working really well. Below are some of the pictures of the harvest and drying process. Some of the photos were taken by one of our students and are available at http://www.montanaagphoto.com/NWC/.

We also discovered that some of the discoloration in Centennial hops was due to thrips (Frankliniella tritici) feeding on the bracts of the cone. These were noticeable when the cone was handled. Blow are pictures of the damage caused by thrips and the thrips themselves.

Student Research Results

As proposed in our Specialty Crops Grant, we really wanted this hops project to include a significant educational aspect for NWC students. Over the course of this semester we've had four students working on two different projects related to the variety trials. First, a group of three students conducted a feasibility study for a proposed 20 acre hopyard. The students were part of an Agriculture Business capstone class that was tasked with proposing a variety of business plans to local bankers. The student's gave their presentation on April 27th, and their final report is here:

20 Acre Hopyard Financial Evaluation for Northern Wyoming

2017 Financial Records - 2018 Financial Records - 2019 Financial Records

Next, in a related class, a student evaluated early bud growth of our Variety Trial #1. His objective was to compare early bud production of varieties in hopes of helping us understand if that is a successful prediction method for yield in a given year. He created a poster that was presented to the public on May 1st.

Evaluation of Early Bud Emergence in the NWC Variety Trial

Successful Growing Hops Seminar

On April 5th, 2017, NWC hosted our first Growing Hops Seminar, which was attended by over 70 people! There were a wide range of interests, from home-growers looking at a few plants in their backyard to potentially 15 acres of hops. There was a lot packed in to just an afternoon, but attendees were attentive and had really great questions. We were joined by two NWC students who presented their economic analysis of a (theoretical) 20 acre hopyard based in Wyoming, as well as two professional brewers who gave attendees insight on the hops market from the buyer's perspective. After the conference several attendees joined us in the field to take a look at the emerging hops buds and the Hopster 5P. We also had an informal tour of the WYOld West brewhouse. Below are photos of the event and then links to each of the presentations given.

Here are links to each of the presentations made at the seminar:

 

2016 Yield Results

Below are the yield results from the 2016 growing season.

When comparing the 2016 data to 2015, we saw nearly double the average yield for our highest yielding variety. While Columbus was the highest performer this year, it was down at #4 last year! We've been expecting that any of our varieties starting with a "C" would be the best performers, and this year's data is showing that to be true. Galena and Nugget began to yield this year, after showing negligible yields in 2015. Northern Brewer, while experiencing a rise in popularity elsewhere (most rhizome providers were sold out), simply cannot overwinter in our area, and therefore is not recommended.

This coming season we want to focus on weed control and fertilization regime, and we'll be sharing those results here as we progress. Stay tuned for an announcement about our Hops Seminar coming up in April!

Cost of Production

We will be producing a Wyoming-specific cost of production table in the future, but we want to link to the Hop Growers of America website, where they have just published Cost of Production spreadsheets that can be manipulated based on your specific situation. Here are the links (Excel Spreadsheets):

Just a note - as the picture above shows, the spreadsheets have several tabs at the bottom for additional information and assumptions, so be sure to check them out.

Hopster5P in Action

We've begun using the Hopster5P - starting with Cascade and Chinook from a home grower, then moving on to harvest around 25 pounds of Zeus from a local small-scale grower. If you're a Wyoming brewery and you are interested in a sample, please email micah.humphreys@nwc.edu for more information.

Here's our first run with the harvester:

First run with the Hopster5P. Hadn't gotten all the setting like we want (so there's more hops out the back than we'd like), but exciting anyway!

And here's some photos of the process:

The leaf and stem material are kicked out the back while the hops are dropped into the conveyor belt and out the side.

The bines are strong enough to withstand being pulled through the machine...but there's not much left.

Once the machine is calibrated, we could run about 2 bines per minute through. We can probably go faster than that, but for now we'd like more hops picked and are less concerned with speed.

That's a lot of hops!

Cascades dry and ready for packaging.

Harvest is Starting

We are currently beginning to harvest hops at the NWC Variety Trial Site 1. We'll be starting with Northern Brewer, though that particular variety did not overwinter well and there is not much production, then moving on to Willamette. After those varieties, we'll fire up the Hopster 5P for a test run on Cascade and Chinook. Here are a couple of photos on 8/25/16.

While not every plant reached the top of the trellis, the growth overall was improved over last year. 

The Hopster5P Portable Hop Harvester Has Arrived.

We are very pleased to announce that the NWC Foundation has awarded us a grant for the purchase of the Hopster5P Portable Hop Harvester. Made by HopHarvester, LLC, this unit allows for mechanized harvesting for smaller growers. With two farmers in the region with hops in the ground, we can't wait to put this to use!

A Northwest Trip, Part Three

The final installment of our trip to hops production areas is the visit to the fields attached to Bale Breaker Brewing and then to the Yakima Hops Museum. First, pictures from Bale Breaker Brewing's Field 41 - a field that they named a beer after, and that is completely Cascade...

Our next stop at the American Hop Museum in Toppenish, WA was really a nice surprise. The museum tells the story of hops here in our country, but more importantly for the current surge in small hops growers in the US, it tells the story of scaling up from hand harvesting to full mechanization! Click through the pictures below to see the transition.

Variety Trial Site 2 Planted

We've finished placing the poles and top wires and have completed planting of the variety trial and what we're calling the "scale up" scenario, where we will be testing Centennial and Cascade in larger quantities. We hope to simulate a production situation at this site with 125 plants of each variety obtained from Great Lakes Hops. They sell year-old plant starts instead of the typical rhizomes and we were alerted to them by Tom Britz at Glacier Hops Ranch in Kalispell, MT. Here's some photos of the process.

Final pole setting and stringing.

Final pole setting and stringing.

The two rows on the left will be the variety trial. Planted on 6/24/16.

Transplanting year-old plants for the "scale up" scenario.

Bud Emergence

Several of the second year plants in Variety Trial #1 are emerging. After analyzing the current emergence, it is pretty clear that Centennial, Cascade and Galena (in that order) have the highest number of shoots per plant, while Mt. Hood, Centennial, Sterling and Galena (in that order) have the highest total number of plants showing shoots.

A Northwest Trip, Part Two

The second stop on the hops fact-finding trip in June 2015 was to Independence, OR, where Rogue Farms is based. Rogue Brewery has done a fantastic job of vertically integrating the brewing ingredients and process in what they call "farm to keg" brewing. Here's a link to their farm blog, where they have lots of information, including farm reports like this Autumn 2015 update. 

The hops fields on Rogue Farms have been in production for a long time and Rogue was able to step in to handling the production and processing so that the product was directly usable for their purposes. Along with a host of proprietary varieties, the farm experiments in pumpkins, marionberries, botanicals and...pigs. As we toured the fields and facilities (they have full hops processing capabilities on site), it was clear that they are passionate about owning the complete process and putting their distinct style on all of it. One example of this is the branding of the buildings - it's right in line with their original brewery branding! You'll find several pictures from the tour below, and directions to their farm here.


American Hop Convention 2016

It has been encouraging to attend what is typically a legacy (multi-generational) hop grower's convention hosted by Hop Growers of America. But of special interest is the new small-grower's track that is taking place. The surge of small acreage growers was recognized by the industry and this track was created. Several regions of the US are represented including Michigan, Vermont, Wisconsin, California and of course Wyoming. You can find the program of events here

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A Northwest Trip, Part One

At NWC, we often tell our students that one of the best ways to learn is to go to the field. One way we help them live that out is by taking students on a trip every spring directly after graduation. You can see several of the places we've been at our Facebook page for the department. In the past, we've taken student on agricultural tours between Powell and...Minneapolis, Dallas, Portland, San Francisco, Calgary, Lincoln and all points in between those locations. 

Naturally we wanted to learn about hops in the same way. And so we visited several producers and parts of the hops industry in Washington and Oregon. Heading through the Columbia River corridor, then south through the Willamette Valley, and making our way back through Yakima, WA, it was incredible to see these legendary (in the hops world) places. This is the first installment in a series recounting the trip.

The first visit was to The Oregon Hophouse south of Portland, OR. Pat grows both organically certified and conventional hops and was kind enough to give us some time and tell us stories about his 38 year tenure as hops grower there. Obviously we weren't the first of our kind to visit him - there's lots of interest in hops growing right now - and he emphasized the realities of hop production: labor shortages, fluctuations in the market, high initial setup costs, and processing infrastructure. Here's what his place looks like, which includes drying and processing machinery on site (click to view bigger sizes and notes):