Enhancing Midwest Hop Productivity Using Photoperiodism

Progress report for FNC21-1303

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2021: $9,000.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2023
Grant Recipient: Scott Farms
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:
Erik Scott
Scott Farms
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Project Information

Description of operation:

Scott Farms is a third-generation family farm in southern Ohio. The farm’s major enterprises include: approximately 700 acres of row crops; approximately 200 acres of forages; a cow-calf enterprise with approximately 65 brood cows and a feeding operation for feeder and fat cattle; and a two-acre hop yard where the farm produces hops that are processed on-farm for direct marketing to various breweries in southwest Ohio. The processing facility is licensed by the Ohio Department of Agriculture, allowing the farm to process hops for other producers. The hop yard was installed in 2015 with processing and sales beginning in 2016. The farm is one of the larger and longer-tenured hop producers in the region. Scott Farms has a long history of using sustainable practices, including grass waterways, rotational grazing, cover crops, and, has even installed a permanent conservation easement that protects the farm’s main creek.

Summary:

Hops are a recently revitalized crop in Ohio. Hop production in the state has increased over the past decade in response to rapid growth in the craft brewing industry and interest in “knowing your farmer” and local food systems. However, Ohio farmers face multiple challenges to sustainable hop production, including growing conditions. One such challenge is day length during the growing season, which is shorter than the most productive hop producing regions of the U.S. Day length is an important factor in flowering timing for hops, which is a major factor determining yield.

This project installed lighting and measured the impacts of a lighting system to extend the photoperiod for hops. The goal was to improve the pre-flowering vegetative growth of the plants in order to increase yields and hop quality in a manner that has potential to not rely on increasing amounts of synthetic fertilizers. An additional goal of the system is to improve the long-term economic sustainability of hop production in the region.

In the first growing season of the project (Season 1) using the lighting system, pre-flowering vegetative growth was increased substantially. Additionally, hop yield was substantially increased compared to the prior growing season. Fertilizer and water usage were measured for Season 1 and fertilizer use was compared to a control hop yard in the region. Additionally, electricity usage and cost were measured for Season 1 and compared to the prior year, as the lighting system added a new input cost to the hop operation. While the initial indications from Season 1 are that vegetative growth and hop yield were increased, the cones harvested in Season 1 were substantially smaller than prior seasons and had lower acid content than industry standards. Because acid content is very important to commercial brewers, these issues with quality were substantial enough that the cones harvested in Season 1 were not adequate for brewing and thus could not be sold as pelletized hops. An important learning from Season 1 was that the timing of nutrient availability will be important for increasing cone size while using a lighting system.

Project Objectives:
  1. Evaluate the installation and operational costs of an LED lighting system for photoperiod extension in commercial-scale hops production;
  2. Evaluate the production and economic effects of an LED lighting system for photoperiod extension in commercial-scale hops production; and
  3. Share findings with other producers and Extension professionals through a field day, social media outreach, a summary video, and a conference presentation.

Research

Materials and methods:

The hop yard at Scott Farms is approximately two acres with approximately 1,800 plants. The yard includes a 12-row high-trellis system with 20-foot tall poles spaced every 44 feet with 16 feet between rows. The trellis system is approximately 5,520 linear feet. A 5/16-inch steel cable is run along the poles at the top and bottom of each row to hold the strings on which each plant is trained. The top cables of the trellis will provide a built-in system for installing the lighting system. The yard is fed with a drip-tape irrigation system from a nearby pond using a triple-sand filter pump. A picture of the hop yard is attached for reference.

Lighting was installed on approximately 1 acre of the hop yard with approximately 900 plants in 2021. All plants with lighting in Season 1 were the Cascade variety. Although the yard included another variety of hops (Fuggles) of approximately 1 acre, after various production issues it was determined that the second variety would need to be destroyed and the yard replanted. The second acre was replanted with 2 new varieties in the summer of 2021, however, the company providing the new plants determined that lighting should not be used on newly planted rhizomes, so lights will not be installed on the second acre until Season 2. The lighting system utilized light-emitting diode (LED) lamps designed specifically for the regulation of flowering in plants. The system used 240 GP LED flowering DR/W/FR E26 11watt bulbs manufactured by Phillips, which are designed for short-day length plants with a spectrum rich in red light.  The lamps were installed on commercial grade-electrical light strings that are attached along the top cable of the trellis system with zip ties. Lamps were placed every 20 feet in a staggered pattern. Installation of the lighting system was labor intensive, requiring 3-4 people to install, so the system installation was staggered over approximately two weeks. In Season 2, it would be beneficial to track and record the number of labor hours required for installation. Lights were turned on in each row of the yard as installation was completed. The first row of the lighting system was installed and turned-on June 6, 2021. Generally, the lighting system was turned on at 7:40PM each evening thereafter and turned off about 8:00 AM each morning. The lighting system was used each night until July 31, 2021, a date determined in consultation with OSU Extension Educator, Brad Bergefurd. Although it would have been ideal to install and begin using the lighting system in May 2021, supply chain issues caused delays in receiving electric strands. In Season 2, the goal will be to turn the lighting system on earlier in the season.

The hop yard is fed with a drip-tape irrigation system from a nearby pond using a triple-sand filter pump. Fertilizer and pesticide applications were applied through the irrigation system and logged throughout the season. Additionally, use of the irrigation system was logged throughout the season to allow for an estimation of water usage for the season. Additional pesticide applications for disease or pest management were applied as necessary using different methods such as foliar application.

The hop yard is near the barnyard, which includes a small grain bin with a dryer, the hops oast house where hops are dried and pelletized, and the nearby tobacco barn on the same electric meter. The lighting system was connected to this existing electrical service. Generally, the electric use of the tobacco barn is static, changing little from month to month. The oast house is used primarily for processing hops. Electric use for processing occurs after lighting has been terminated. Although some processing of hops for other growers could make electricity for lighting and processing overlap, in 2021 there was no overlap. Electricity bills for 2021 were collected to track electricity usage and costs associated with the lighting system.

To compare vegetative growth, yield, and fertilizer use, data were requested for the hop research plot at the OSU South Centers, which is approximately 56 miles east of Scott Farms and subject to similar growing conditions. It should be noted that the OSU South Centers uses a V-trellis system. OSU South Centers Brad Bergefurd of OSU Extension graciously agreed to allow us to use the hops yard data and information as the control site for this project.

Research results and discussion:

Vegetative Growth

Vegetative growth was significantly increased in Season 1. Pictures attached (Figure 1, Figure 2, Figure 3, Figure 4) show that many more plants grew to the top of the trellis, a height of 20 feet, than years prior. Figures 1-4 were taken in August and September 2021. The attached picture (Figure 5) from 2017 shows an example of the best height growth experienced prior to this project, while additional pictures show growth in Season 1. During Season 1, some bines even grew along the top of the cable. In addition to increased height of the majority of plants, there was also substantial lateral growth. In Season 1 lateral growth was significant. In many instances lateral growth reached the plant beside and intertwined with it.  Horizontal growth between plants has a big impact on cone production. In previous years, lateral growth has been minimal at best.

In comparison, the maximum height of the plants for the 2021 growing season at the OSU South Centers hop yard was estimated at 15-20 ft.[1]

Figure 1.
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4
Figure 5

Yield

In 2020, the estimated yield for the Cascade hops was 40 pounds of pelletized hops. Yield in Season 1 was significantly increased compared to 2020. Observationally, there were more cones per rope that were more tightly clustered together in Season 1.

In Season 1, approximately half of the Cascade variety was harvested prior to quality analysis indicating that the hops were well below industry standard and not salable to commercial craft brewers. This harvest yielded 102 pounds of pelletized Cascade hops as detailed below. This is approximately 0.83 pounds per plant.

 

Picked Row 1 on 09-26-21                              Processed 09-30-21    37lb pellets

Picked Row 2 on 10-02-21                              Processed 10-05-21    45lb pellets

Picked Row 3 on  10-09-21                             Processed 10-21-21    20 lb pellets

Table 1. Harvest timing and yield for Season 1 at Scott Farms.

 

In comparison, the Cascade variety at the hop yard at the OSU South Centers yielded 0.75 pounds per plant, which is approximately 779 pounds of dry hops per acre.[2]

Quality

Season 1 quality was mixed. As discussed above, there were many more cones produced in Season 1 than in previous crops. However, the size of the cones was much smaller than in previous years. Cones from the yard were also smaller than Cascade cones grown ornamentally on the farm away from the hop yard, as seen in the attached photograph (Figure 6 and Figure 7) with ornamental plants on the left and plants from the yard on the right. There are multiple variables that may have caused this smaller size.

  • The plants were not exposed to the lighting as early as they should have been. As discussed above, supply chain issues created delays in the installation of the lighting. The plan for Season 2 is to begin lighting much earlier in the growing season.
  • The plants may not have had enough nutrients to last through the growing season. Plants may not have had enough nutrients to sustain the additional vegetation and produce larger cones.

Additionally, hop quality is measured based on lab analysis of the acid contents of cones using a mass spectrometer. The industry standard for Cascade hops is alpha acid content of 4.5-7.0% and beta acid content of 4.8-7.0%.[3] Analysis of Cascade hops from OSU South Centers indicated alpha acid content of 7.8% and beta acid content of 5.0% prior to pelletizing. Analysis of Scott Farms pelletized Cascades in Season 1 indicated alpha acid content of 3.2% and beta acid content of 2.5%. As discussed previously, this rendered the Scott Farms Cascades from Season 1 not salable for use in commercial brewing. This analysis was completed on hop pellets, the final product from Scott Farms. However, it is possible that quality issues could be the result of processing rather than growing conditions. Experience from prior growing seasons indicates that this could be the case. In Season 2, analysis will be completed on cones prior to processing and again following processing.

Figure 6
Figure 7

Income

Season 1 income to date is $0 because of the issues with quality discussed above.

Fertilizer

The tables below detail the fertilizer applications to the hop yard at Scott Farms for 2020 and 2021 (Season 1). Compared to 2020, fertilizer use increased in Season 1 while yield increased significantly.

Fertilizer Usage 2021

   

Application Date

Fertilizer type

Rate

3/8/2021

19-19-19

600 lb/acre

4/12/2021

28% UAN

15 gal

5/8/2021

28% UAN

10 gal

6/1/2021

28% UAN

10 gal

6/14/2021

28% UAN

12 gal

6/28/2021

20-10-20 Pro Sol

20 lb

6/30/2021

20-10-20 Pro Sol

20 lb

7/27/2021

20-10-20 Pro Sol

20 lb

Table 2. Fertilizer applications for Season 1 at Scott Farms.

In total, fertilizer application in 2021 was 265 pounds of Nitrogen actually applied per acre.

 

Fertilizer Usage 2020

 

Application Date

Fertilizer type

Rate

3/15/2020

19-19-19

600 lb/acre

5/1/2020

28% UAN

15 gal

5/28/2020

28% UAN

20 gal

5/28/2020

20-10-20 Pro Sol

10 lb

Table 3. Fertilizer applications for Season 1 at Scott Farms.

 

In total, fertilizer application in 2020 was 215.2 pounds of Nitrogen actually applied per acre.

In comparison, the hop yard at the OSU South Centers received 300 pounds of Nitrogen fertilizer (28% UAN) per acre through the drip irrigation system over a seven-week period in the 2021 growing season.

As previously discussed, lack of some nutrients and the timing of nutrient availability may be one reason for the reduced size of the cones produced in Season 1. Season 2 will provide an opportunity to understand these questions further.

Electricity

The lighting system in this project added an additional input to hop production – electricity. To understand the use and cost of this additional input, electricity usage and cost for Season 1 were tracked and compared to electricity use in 2020 during the period the lighting system was used from June 6, 2021 through July 31, 2021.

 

Electricity Usage 2021

     

Bill date

Service Date

kWh

Cost

   

June

May 24 - June 23

441

$62.92

   

July

June 23 - July 23

1418

$182.35

   

August

July 23 - Aug 23

652

$89.08

   
           
           
 

Electricity Usage 2020

     
 

Service Date

kWh

Cost

   

June

May  - June

688

$96.37

   

July

June - July

283

$45.56

   

August

July  - Aug

1094

$148.14

*

 
           

* this period included Oast House electric for hop harvest, including extra drying and heating cost

Table 4. Electricity use and cost in 2020 and 2021 at Scott Farms.

The best month for understanding the change in electricity usage and cost attributable to the lighting system is July. Lights were started June 6, 2021, so the cost of the system would only appear for a portion of the June billing month. Lighting was active for the entire July billing period. Thus, it is estimated from the July billing for 2020 and 2021 that the lighting system utilized 1135 kWh of electricity with a cost of $136.79.

Water

The hops at Scott Farms were generally watered every 7 days in Season 1, depending on the rainfall during the preceding week as well as nutrient, insecticide, or herbicide applications needed for insect, fungus or mold pressure.

The total amount of water used in Season 1 is estimated at 203,655 gallons. This estimated to be close to the same amount used in the preceding year.

[1] All references to data from the OSU South Centers hop yard are from “Hop Production to Enhance Economic Opportunities for Ohio Farmers 2021” by Brad Bergefurd, Extension Educator, South Centers, Thomas Harker, Horticulture Research Associate, South Centers, Ryan Slaughter, Horticulture Research Assistant, South Centers, and Wayne Lewis, Farm Manager, South Centers.

[2] This weight is prior to pelletizing, while the figures from Scott Farms are for pelletized hops. Pelletizing results in loss of weight, although difficult to measure. In Season 2, dry hops will be weighed prior to pelletizing for better comparison.

[3] Variety Manual: 2016 Update (n.d.). Hop Growers of America. Retrieved from https://www.usahops.org/cabinet/data/2016_VarietyManual%20%281%29.pdf

Participation Summary
1 Farmer participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Webinars / talks / presentations
16 Other educational activities: Social media posts. Please see description below.

Participation Summary:

15 Farmers
Education/outreach description:

To share information about this project and outcomes, activities were documented with photos and videos. Throughout Season 1, photos and videos were shared regularly on Scott Farms’ social media, along with information about the project and progress. Ten Facebook posts and 6 Instagram posts shared information such as the purpose and goals of the project, growth and progress of plant and flower development, and learnings from Season 1. Facebook posts reached an average of 1,143 users per post. The reach of all 10 Facebook posts was 11,436 as of this writing. Facebook posts were shared 39 times, commented on 54 times, and had 704 total likes and reactions. Instagram posts had 84 likes and 6 comments as of this writing.

On January 29, 2022, Erik and Hannah presented “Farm to Glass: Growing and Marketing Hops for the Craft Brewing Industry,” at the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation’s Winter Leadership Experience for young agricultural professionals. The presentation included an overview of the farm’s experience with hops as a unique crop in Ohio and shared information about this project, including goals and initial observations from Season 1. Approximately 15 people attended the presentation. The outreach opportunity was also shared on Scott Farms Facebook page in December 2021, reaching 529 users as of this writing.

Additional opportunities to share the project via event presentations are ongoing.

Photos and videos taken during Season 1 will be used for additional presentations that include information about the project and a video about the project to be developed following the second growing season.

Learning Outcomes

1 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Lessons Learned:

Season 1 provided various lessons about the feasibility of utilizing a lighting system to improve hop yields. Results from Season 1 are not sufficient to make recommendations about this system yet and Season 2 will be important for understanding potential benefits and challenges. At this time, it appears that there are advantages to utilizing a lighting system in hops, including the ability to time hop harvest and a potential positive impact on yield. However, there are challenges associated with the system, including the labor and time it took to install the system at a commercial scale and cost of the system and additional electricity costs. Growers interested in such a system will need to carefully consider ease of access to electricity infrastructure and the potential engineering needs to operate the lighting system, both electrical considerations and the trellis considerations.

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.