Michigan Organic Hops Production: utilizing current IPM models to investigate biocontrol effectiveness on hops pests and diseases in an organic production system
Our work activities began with securing the supplies necessary to complete the hop yard expansion, effectively tripling the size of the yard from 1/5 acre to 3/5 acre. Prices had inflated considerably on the wire and hardware components due to increasing fuel costs and the resultant shipping costs rolled into the suppliers’ pricing. We economized by not re-cabling the entire system, but instead tying into the existing posts and carrying the cable through and to the ground on the new sections. Also, we had initially considered re-anchoring the entire system and ended up just getting earth anchors for the new part only. Another pricing roadblock we incurred was the under estimation of the cost to drive a tap well, supplies alone accounted for the $500 budgetary line item for our added irrigation system the grant was to assist in providing. Also, an incredibly wet end to the Memorial Day weekend grounded our rented 4WD man-lift in 18 inches of mud which I got stuck TWICE.
The additional expenses from the difficulty with the lift as well as the costs of the irrigation system we personally paid for with an owner equity infusion of cash. You will be able to see on the budget update file where we put in funds to make sure the project progressed.
Also, one other unexpected problem that arose was the acquisition of rhizomes proved difficult in March as most preorders are done in January and February and we did not know at the time whether we would be awarded the grant or not. We were unable to acquire one variety entirely, Magnum. The material we did end up receiving was both poor quality and ended up being stored by us too long prior to planting. Resultant emergence of plants was only 38%. I did make up some of the “loss” by purchasing hop crowns locally from a gentleman deciding it was too much labor to handle at his retirement age. These crowns I potted up and grew in a greenhouse until we had a chance to get them in the ground. They all did very well. Mt. Hood and Chinook were the two varieties.
We did not get much growth from our newly planted rhizomes so the foliage and root applied “soft chemicals” portion of our experimentation was held off until this coming 2012 season. We will be splitting our existing plantation to repopulate the areas where the 2011 purchased rhizomes did not emerge. We anticipate having no problem with sufficient foliar growth to carry out those portions of our experimentation plots this year, especially because we’ll have the drip irrigation in place and functioning as well.
One portion of our grant that we did have progress on and had tremendous success with was the introduction of beneficial mites (Phytoseiulus persimilis) to our hop yard. Two of the main arthropod pests of hops are aphids and the two-spotted spider mite.
Thankfully there was not much aphid pressure last season however, spider mites did show up. We released beneficial mites, a product called Spidex, purchased through Mark Crossley of West Michigan IPM who is a vendor of Koppert who sells and markets beneficial organisms. We had applied these beneficial mites twice during the growing season and they did a tremendous job of eliminating the pests down to a non-economically damaging level, virtually eradicating the pest. So we see tremendous potential to utilize beneficial mites on a larger scale in Midwest commercial hop yards, both organic and sustainable systems, provided the proper spray intervals are followed for beneficial release protocol.
Beginning in June we had a tremendous twist of fate by engaging in a conversation with a gentleman attempting to find a suitable hop farmer to team up with and create a larger hop yard with full processing capabilities. By mid-July we had both committed our efforts to each other and began writing a business plan and private placement memorandum to fund this ambitious project. Fast forward 8 months and we now have taken on hop growing as a full time job. Jeff Steinman has quit his job as a full-time head grower for one of the top 40 wholesale greenhouses in the country and is now pursuing growing hops in Hickory Corners, Barry County, on a 39 acre farm. Updates regarding the newly formed Hop Head Farms, LLC can be followed at our website : www.hopheadfarms.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/HopHeadFarms
So far we’ve learned that weather can have a tremendous impact on scheduling so starting early and attempting to stay on schedule are tremendously important. Also, that despite all best efforts sometimes things take longer and cost more than anticipated so we should build in contingencies both monetarily and time-wise.
As far as positive results, we have found that releases of beneficial organisms can effectively control two-spotted spider mite problems. Timing the first application shortly after “training” time provided good early control during the actively growing phase of the bines. Also another application or two mid-season will maintain pest populations in the non-economically damaging levels at the critical time prior to “burring” and cone formation. Once the cones are formed if there are significant pests present it is near impossible to remove pests from all the cracks and crevices that the hop cones naturally provide. So early pest detection, an early release, a mid-season release, and if necessary a third or fourth release will help keep mite pest levels at a non-economically damaging level.
WORK PLAN FOR 2012
2012 season will begin with dividing our existing plants to repopulate the expansion area. We will also repair the lower wire installed to hang our drip line on and get electricity to the pump and drip irrigation system. We will also need to restring areas where we did harvest our two and three year old plants from our pre-existing portion of the field. Some of the wires that had come undone were either a result of the post they were attached to getying hit in mowing or due to agitation from removing the coir rope upon harvest. We will be dialing in the watering regime to provide adequate top growth and do some control and experimental root drenches using a beneficial fungus (RootshieldWP) for root growth stimulation and disease protection.
2012 will also be the year in which we will test some “soft” insect control products both for effectiveness versus pests and for potential phytotoxicity. Fortunately, last year there was not much Powdery or Downy Mildew pressure at our site. Every growing season is different though so we will monitor for these particularly problematic fungal pathogens in 2012 and take corrective measures as necessary.
Last year on August 17th, I was invited by Diane Brown, MSU Extension Educator, of the SWMREC (Southwest Michigan Research and Education Center in Benton Harbor, Michigan) to speak on “experiences of a new hop farmer” and disclose what I’ve learned from our start back in the winter of 2007-8 until now. Diane hosted a program designed to introduce farmers and other interested people to the concept of hop farming. She described from the history all the way through the processing end of hop operations. I was able to lend insight into the mistakes both we and others as early adopters had made along the way. I also was able to talk about the NCR-SARE grant that Bonnie and I had received and disclosed our results thus far regarding the beneficial organism part of our experimentations in the organic test plot.
We also regularly share information and education opportunities to the potential hop grower community both through our Facebook page, Hop Head Farms, as well as the group we started to foster information sharing and regional group cooperation, Great Lakes Hops Growers Consortium. It is meant for resource sourcing, such as rhizomes, starter plants, poles, coir rope — as well as an informational repository where people can post photos and problems and get answers back from their regional professional peers.
The third and ongoing way we are sharing our results is through a social meeting being held on an every other month basis called, “Southern Michigan Hop Growers Beer Social” – it is held at a local pub in Kalamazoo called, “Shakespeare’s Pub”. Current and interested growers can convene and we have topics for discussion during the first 2 hours of the three hour meeting then the third is for socializing asking one on one questions and having some good beers from Michigan brewers, national standout brewers as well as some international selections. The last meeting we held on Saturday, January 28th, 2012 was to disclose the findings of a week and a half trip I, Jeff, took to the Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Conference at Shanty Creek, in Bellaire, Michigan; a second leg in which I met our partner Nunzino Pizza out in Sacramento and drove to Chico California to visit the relative to the new German, state-of-the-art hop picker very similar to the one we have on order and being built in Germany right now; and thirdly my travel to Newport Beach, California where the 56th Annual American Hop Convention took place. The second half of our meeting was just as exciting in that we had 36 people in attendance interested in forming a state-wide hop growers group to better interface with both the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development as well as the Michigan Brewers Guild.
On March 3rd, Saturday from 9am to noon at the Gilmore Car Museum Heritage Center (down the road from our new 39-acre hop yard), another meeting, bringing together many of the hop growers from the January 28th meeting as well as the Michigan Brewers Guild board members as well as several brewers, is being planned by our Barry County Economic Development Alliance president Valerie Byrnes as well as Rick Chapla of the West Michigan Economic Development Regional Chapter in conjunction with Hop Head Farms, LLC. We will be bringing in the Michigan Restaurant Association as well as key people within the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to discuss the results of a report from the Specialty Crop Block Grant that the MI Restaurant Association and the Michigan Brewers Guild jointly received in September of 2010. There will be a brewer panel as well as a hop grower panel of which Hop Head Farms LLC will help lead the discussion regarding the mutual needs of both the brewing industry and the resurgent hop growing industry in Michigan.
This is an exciting time in the Midwest for a resurgence of a crop that once was quite prevalent here more than one hundred years ago. The strong growth within the craft beer industry coupled with the new courage of people willing to invest in the infrastructure of hop yards and processing facilities can create a win-win for both groups.
Future ways of disclosing our research results will be through our beer social meetings as well as another Hops 101 type course offered this coming summer through Diane Brown. Also, Hop Head Farms LLC may hold our own Hops 101 type course sometime following the harvest season as there is continuous work to be done regarding carrying out our new 15-acre plantation and hop processing facilities for 2012.