Economics of Growing Hops In Indiana: Planting Rhizomes versus Fully Rooted Plants

Final Report for FNC14-954

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2014: $7,465.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Project Coordinator:
Justin Kratoska
Hoosier Hops Farm LLC
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Project Information

Summary:
  • Project Duration: 18 months – 2 growing seasons
  • Date of Report: 12/2015

PROJECT BACKGROUND

Hoosier Hops Farm is an urban farm founded in 2013 with a desire to begin and maintain sustainable practices throughout their operations. Currently there is 1 acre of hops planted with a potential of 3 more acres being added. Current varieties include Chinook, Cascade, Columbus, Newport and Vojvodina. The operation has 2 current employees, the founders of the farm.

From the establishment of the farm all processes are evaluated to choose the most sustainable approach. We installed drip irrigation lines to reduce the amount of water evaporation as well as chemigation for adding fertilizer and other soluble micro-nutrients. Herbicide, fungicide and insecticide use was limited to minimum application rate and only used when absolutely necessary.

PROJECT DESCRIPTION

GOALS: The project was evaluated by performing a comparative analysis of the yields of 320 fully rooted plants versus the 320 rhizomes after the first year of growth. It was decided after the first year to conduct the evaluation on second year growth for a good comparison.

PROCESS: The 320 control rhizomes and the 320 fully rooted plants were planted in identical soil conditions to maintain consistent growing media. We originally had expected to purchase 160 each of plant and rhizomes of Newport and Horizon varieties but the Horizon variety was not available in rhizome form from any suppliers and the Newport rhizomes were not available in the quantity we had planned. We ended up with 160 Chinook, 100 Cascade and 42 Newport of each rhizome and fully rooted plant. All plants received the same amount of fertilizer and were treated with the same amount of insecticide/fungicide, if necessary. Vertical and side arm bine growth was measured and recorded weekly. The plants were photographed at various stages of growth for visual comparisons. Both harmful and beneficial insects were scouted for weekly throughout the growing season to determine if insecticide application was necessary. Dates were recorded when the plants formed burrs, which is the early stage of hop cone formation, and the date when cones became visible.

At harvest time, the total weight of the harvested cones were measured and recorded per hop variety for both the fully rooted plants and the rhizomes.

Soil samples were taken and analyzed for nutrient evaluation before planting, during the vertical growth stage when most nitrogen is absorbed, and when cones begin to form. Plant leaf tissue samples will be taken during the vertical growth phase and during cone production to evaluate nutrient uptake into the plants.

PEOPLE

KC Lewis – Indy High Bines, farmer – helped with harvest and field day.

Ryan Gettum – Indy High Bines, farmer - helped with harvest and field day.

Dennis Foran – volunteer – helped with harvest

Chris Ross – volunteer – helped with harvest

Roy Ballard – Indiana SARE coordinator – helped with introduction to SARE and direction for grant proposal.

RESULTS

The goal was to measure how much variance there was in yield between the rhizomes vs fully rooted plants.

The yields between rhizomes and plants were the same per plant on all 3 varieties, which was unexpected as we thought the rooted plants would be more progressed in their life cycle than the rhizomes. We concluded that the fertilizer additions could make a considerable difference in yield. This idea became more clear after attending Indiana’s 1st Annual Hop Growers and the 3rd Annual Michigan Hop Growers workshops in March 2015 where discussions were held at the workshops that indicated applying differing amounts of nitrogen in different regions of the country (Vermont – 150lbs/acre, Minnesota – 200lbs/acre, Oregon – 175lbs/acre). We determined that the 75lbs of applied nitrogen suggested for first year growth is not adequate enough to produce a reasonable yield and thus decided for 2015 season we would add 150lbs/acre and 175lbs/acre for 2016 season until an optimum amount is determined for our region.

Fig 1, Harvest in lbs 2014 vs 2015

As the plants and rhizomes began to grow it became evident that there was a noticeable variance in the survivability of each mode. The plants had the highest survivability while the rhizomes had some success in certain varieties, see Fig 2.

 

 

Fig 2, Hop Survivability Percentage, FNC14-954

Another noticeable variance was the flowering percentage between the modes. The flowering stage is when the hops began producing cones. We’re not sure why some plants grew 6-12’ but did not produce cones; further research will be needed for the next growing season, see Fig 3.   The numbers shown in Figure 3 are the flowering percentages from the total number of plants/rhizomes that survived. For example, the Cascade rhizome flowering percent was 45% of the 85% that survived.  

Fig 3, Hop Flowering Percentage, FNC14-954

Based on these two charts it’s pretty clear that the plants not only have a better survivability rate but also a better flowering rate.

2015 growing season saw all the hops return from the previous year and all the plants flowered and produced cones.  

DISCUSSION

This SARE grant has allowed us to research which type of hop plant mode will provide the best overall economical impact to capital startup of procuring starting hop material. Though we found that our original hypothesis was not proven and that either mode will likely produce the same yield, there are a lot of other factors (nitrogen, water, timing the growing season) that determine overall yield and the optimum conditions have not yet been identified for Indiana. The main conclusion found was the survivability difference between plants and rhizomes with plants having a much higher survivability rate.   Given the survivability rate when purchasing fully rooted plants for $3-5 per plant, the price is economically justified as conventional planting methods of 2-4 rhizomes per hill at $1- 5 per rhizome. This project has provided guidance for other startup farms in Indiana as well as vital data on what requirements are needed by this crop to succeed as a specialty crop. While only having 3 years of data on growing hops in central Indiana we can help future growers overcome startup mistakes for a crop that is on the forefront of making an agricultural impact to Indiana’s booming brewing market.  

OUTREACH

We discussed our SARE grant in all the interviews we conducted during the project period (radio interview with WIBC – 6/28/2014, Farm Indiana Magazine – September 2014, Newspapers Indianapolis Star – 5/2014 & Daily Journal – 3/2015).

We also had a chance to discuss our first year results at our quarterly hop growing meetings in central Indiana that included members from existing farms, future farms and Purdue University faculty & students.

Project Objectives:

The main objective of this study is to compare the total weight of the harvested cones per hop variety for both the fully rooted plants and the rhizomes to determine which method produces more product to sell during the first year of growth. The performance targets are that the 320 control rhizomes and the 320 fully rooted plants will be planted in the same hopyard.  Vertical and side arm bine growth will be measured and recorded weekly. The plants will be photographed at various stages of growth for visual comparisons.  Both harmful and beneficial insects will be scouted weekly throughout the spring and summer to implement IPM methods for pesticide/insecticide usage.  Dates will be recorded when the plants form burrs, which is the early stage of hop cone formation. The date will be recorded when the cones become visible.  At harvest time, the total weight of the hops plants will be recorded for a sampling of each variety planted and averaged.  Soil samples will be taken and analyzed for nutrient evaluation before planting, during the vertical growth stage when most nitrogen is absorbed, and when cones begin to form. Plant leaf tissue samples will be taken during the vertical growth phase and during cone production to evaluate nutrient uptake into the plants.

Cooperators

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  • Matt Crankshaw

Research

Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.