Assessing Soil Fertility and Soil Health in Midwest Hop Production

Progress report for LNC18-401

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2018: $98,561.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2021
Grant Recipient: The Ohio State University
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Steven Culman
Ohio State University
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Project Information


The hop production industry has benefited greatly from the continued popularity of craft beer. The U.S. is second in the world in total hop acreage and production with new farms entering the market each year. Within the Midwest, harvested hop acres have increased from 380 acres in 2014 to 939 acres in 2016 with the majority of production coming from Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio. Research in this area has primarily focused on integrated pest management (1PM) and disease control with very little attention provided to soil fertility and soil health. However, soil fertility and health have consistently been identified by North Central hop growers as a critical area where they need better information for effective management. This proposal will address this knowledge gap with the following objectives: i) document relationships between soil fertility and soil health with hop cone quality and yield, ii) develop more reliable leaf petiole nitrate values for N management of hops, and iii) develop educational materials and continue outreach efforts for optimized nutrient management in North Central hopyards. We'll partner with approximately 20-30 hop growers primarily in Ohio and Michigan and sample 50 total hop yards each year. Farmers will sample and ship us soil, petiole and hop cones throughout the season for laboratory analysis. We will quantify soil fertility and health, nutrient levels and hop cone quality. We will relate these characteristics to management practices and elucidate relationships between soil quality and hop quality and yield. We will document typical nutrient ranges for 3-4 key hop varieties grown in the Midwest. Finally, we will develop education and outreach materials that provide guidance and best practices targeting soil and nutrient management. This work will address a widely identified research need by the hop growing community in the North Central region and provide tools for growers to optimize soil and nutrient management and subsequent economic profitability.

Project Objectives:


Learning Outcomes

Farmers will learn:

(1) Soil health basics and its importance in crop production;

(2) Interpreting soil tests to inform nutrient management decisions; and

(3) Using petiole sap testing to monitor nutrient uptake in hops.

Action Outcomes

Upon completion of our project, farmers will:

(1) Include monitoring soil health in their hopyard management plans;

(2) Use fertilizers to boost overall soil health as necessary based on first interpreting soil test results; and

(3) Monitor nutrient uptake in petioles in order to make real-time nutrient management decisions in the field.


The hop production industry in the North Central region is growing rapidly, and with this growth there are numerous production issues that have yet to be comprehensively addressed. Of the many challenges in growing hops profitability, soil fertility, nutrient management and soil health have consistently been identified by growers as a major challenge to the success of their operation. For example, in a recent survey of hop growers in Ohio and Michigan (n = 28 responses) conducted by our team, soil fertility was listed closely behind plant diseases and insect pest as their largest management challenge. Nutrient management information that does exist on hops was not developed in the North Central region, but rather in places with different environments, soils and production constraints. Profitable hop farming requires managing hopyards not only for yield, but also for hop cone quality. Many farmers believe there is a strong relationship between the quality of their soils and the quality of the hop cones grown on their soils. However, work to determine these relationships has not been fully explored. Therefore, our long-term goal is to develop a set of robust soil health and nutrient management best management practices in North Central hopyards.



Our objectives are to:

1. Document the relationship between soil fertility and soil health with hop cone quality and yield.

2. Develop sufficiency level values for leaf petiole nitrate in hops specific to the Midwest region.

3. Develop educational materials and continue outreach efforts focused on soil health and nutrient management for Midwest hopyards.

Materials and methods:

In Spring of 2019 we lined up interested farmer cooperators and assembled research packages for enrolled farmers. In total we had 33 farmers who enrolled 87 hop yards across Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois. We mailed a total of 4 packages over the course of the growing season:

  1. Soil sampling: Sent labeled soil bags, prepaid and addressed return boxes and probes (if requested)
  2. Petiole nitrate meter: Sent petiole nitrate meter at no charge to all participating farmers
  3. Sent materials and shipping for a hop leaf tissue analysis
  4. Sent materials and shipping for hop cone analysis 

Farmers sent in soils, hop petiole nitrate data, hop leaf tissue and harvested hop cones for analysis. Soils and plant tissue were analyzed and data were compiled both at an individual farm level as well as in aggregate across all farms.


In the Spring of 2020, the COVID pandemic caused Ohio State University to shut down all campus activity for ~3 months. This was a critical period for us to gather supplies and ship them to our cooperating farmers. We made the decision to suspend our research activities in 2020 and restart this effort in 2021. We reached out to all growers and communicated our intentions and fielded any follow up questions. The project has essentially been on hold since this time. Now, we are getting ready to reach back out to farmers, confirm interest in participating in 2021 and recruiting any new hop growers that may be interested in working with us. 

Research results and discussion:

Summary of the preliminary results from the first year of research was mailed to all farmers (attached), along with individual raw data from their individual hop yards. Year 1 Hop Research Summary Report for Cooperators

Research conclusions:


Participation Summary
33 Farmers participating in research


Educational approach:

Eduction of hop growers was accomplished through a field day and through several hop-focused conferences throughout the NC region. Details of these activities are provided in the 'Project Activities' page. 

Project Activities

Hop Fertility Project Overview
Great Lakes Hop and Barley Conference
Hop Farmer Advisory Committee Meeting
Great Lakes Hop Working Group (GLHWG) Meeting
Petiole Nitrate Demonstration
Summary of On-Farm Hop Fertility Research - Year 1

Educational & Outreach Activities

5 Consultations
1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 On-farm demonstrations
4 Webinars / talks / presentations
1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

180 Farmers
12 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

This educational activities are all outlined in the 'Project Activities' page.

Learning Outcomes

Key areas taught:
  • Hop fertility and soil health indicators and outcomes

Project Outcomes

Key practices changed:
    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.