Soil Nutrition and Fertility Options for Organic Hop Growers in the Northeast

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2011: $4,417.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Fletcher Bach
Square Nail Hops Farm


  • Agronomic: hops


  • Crop Production: biological inoculants, organic fertilizers
  • Education and Training: extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, feasibility study
  • Pest Management: prevention
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: green manures, organic matter, soil analysis, soil microbiology, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, sustainability measures

    Proposal summary:

    The University of Vermont Extension conducted a survey in 2010 asking brewers throughout New England about their interest in using locally produced hops. Brewers responded overwhelmingly in favor of using hops from local producers for a variety of reasons. One benefit of utilizing local brewing ingredients is the significant decrease in carbon footprint from delivery as almost all hop farms are located in Washington, Oregon, or Europe.

    The problem is that best management practices for this budding industry exist almost exclusively for
    large scale, conventional hop farms located in dry climates in the Pacific Northwest. Small scale,
    organic hop farms located in the Northeast have extraordinarily different needs and practices. The
    study conducted by Jeffrey Klein in 1998 (FNE98-195 Westerlo, NY) provides a great deal of
    insight into hop farming on a small scale, but does not address hop fertility management,
    specifically, the accessibility of nutrients to the hop plants from different organic amendment
    sources. As hops use a great deal of nitrogen, soil fertility is a chief concern for organic hop farmers.

    Our study aims to address this issue by comparing different types of organic fertilizers and their
    affect on hopyard establishment. This study will include a certified organic nutrition application
    called Biplantol; a relatively new product that is of great interest to orchard, vineyard, and hop
    growers in particular. By sharing our soil test and biomass results at our outreach field day, on our
    blog, through UVM Extension events, the Northeast Hops Alliance website, as well as the SARE
    database, other farmers considering adding hops to their farming operations can have the
    information they need to do so organically. Our study, along with other studies such as the study released by UVM Extension comparing organic fungicide usage on hops, will add to the growing knowledge base in the region.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The Birkett Farm in Ferrisburgh, Vermont has been an active farm since 1803. Since that time, the
    farm has focused on an assortment of activities ranging from maple sugar, horses, hay, and corn, to
    cows and goats for dairy. As the dairy industry wanes in Vermont, farmers are looking to gain
    greater stability through an increase in product diversity. As the state with the largest amount of
    breweries per capita and populace with significant interest in local products, Vermont has huge
    potential as a hop-growing region.

    The purpose of our hops study is to determine, by the end of the growing season, which of the selected
    applications produce the most biomass, healthiest plant (pest damage and overall vigor, both rated
    on a 0 – 10), and demonstrated the most plant available N based on soil and tissue testing.
    Conducting this research will allow us and other farmers in the Northeast to adjust types of
    fertilizers and application schedules they use to efficiently produce the healthiest plants they can.
    Biplantol is becoming popular for orchard crops in the area, but there has been little research on the
    product published, and we would like to ensure that it is a sound investment for area farmers.
    We decided to conduct all of our research on the Cascade hop variety rather than sample from
    multiple varieties. Cascade is a variety that has shown itself to be very successful in the northeastern
    climate. Future research like ours could be done across varieties to identify which products work
    better for different varieties, but that is beyond the scope of this particular study.

    We spent this year adding another trellis system in which we will conduct this study. This new yard
    is located in a field that hasn’t had significant nutrient applications in the past 15 years, other than a
    consistent cover crop, currently of red clover. The experiment is designed in a randomized block
    design with three replications, and four plants per treatment to prevent overlap between treatments. See attached Hop Figure 1 below. Plants will be spaced at 3.5’ x 10’, with plots measuring a total of 14’ x 10’. Half of the yard was sprayed with Biplantol in the fall of 2010.

    Oregon State University Extension Service released a publication on fertility in conventional hopyards (, stating that first year hops require 75 lbs N/acre. We plan to meet the hop plant’s needs with slower releasing organic amendments.

    Composted manure will be tested by the UVM Agricultural Testing Lab for nutrient content. As Chilean Nitrate can only be used to meet 20% of the crop’s needs under organic standards, the composted manure will fulfill the rest of the plants’ needs in those treatments.

    Composted manure will be added to all plots at planting, and Chilean Nitrate will be added in mid-June. The soil will be tested for nitrates in late June. We will utilize backpack sprayers to apply the Biplantol, once in early June, once in mid-June, and once in mid-July after flowering. An AGCO 6065 tractor will be used to help dispense the composted manure. Chilean Nitrate will be applied by hand. Using the tested manure as our control (represented on Fig. 1 as X), we will apply each product to the sample plots: Biplantol sprayed three times, with rootstock soaked in Biplantol (B+R), Chilean Nitrate + Biplantol sprayed three times (C+B), Chilean Nitrate applied to the soil alone (C), and Biplantol sprayed three times with unsoaked rootstock (B). Yield data will be recorded, as well as whole-plant biomass at harvest. Leaves will be collected at harvest and analyzed
    for nitrogen using the UVM Agricultural Testing Lab CHN Elemental Analyzer.

    Throughout the growing season great attention will be paid to the plants associated with the research project. Weekly hopyard inspections and written evaluations will be conducted from planting to harvest, for a total of one hour per week for 15 weeks. As our farm is becoming a full-time hop farm as well as a hop processing facility, we will be dedicating our time and attention to getting accurate and meaningful results from our research project.
    To gather meaningful and valuable results, we will use a combination of biomass readings and analysis, soil tests, and observations of visual health and pest activity. By using varied methods for
    gathering data, we can more accurately measure the efficacy of each product individually.

    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.