- Agronomic: hops
- Production Systems: organic agriculture
Seventy-five percent of the hops produced in the U.S. are grown on 28,000 acres by approximately 65 farmers in the Yakima Valley of Washington State. Oregon represents another approximately 15% of the U.S. hop acreage. Hops are a perennial, high-value crop that, under current production standards, requires large quantities of pesticides and nitrogen fertilizer to achieve high yields and good quality. In response to increasing demand for organic hops and the rising costs of fertilizer and crop protection chemicals, hop growers in the Pacific Northwest have begun to plant organic hops. Hop yields, however, often show dramatic decreases under organic or low-input management due to increased insect and disease pressure. Research in low-input and organic systems is needed to identify suitable hop cultivars and evaluate the ability of cover crops to suppress weeds, build soil quality, supplement nitrogen, provide habitat for beneficial insects and optimize nitrogen fertility and irrigation management. The objectives of this project include: 1) evaluate hop varieties in organic and low-input systems for insect (aphids and mites) and disease (powdery and downy mildew) resistance, cone quality, and yield; 2) evaluate different in- and between-row cover crop options to enhance soil fertility, enhance weed suppression and provide habitat for beneficial insects; and 3) develop an educational handbook for hop growers that focuses on sustainable hop production. Field trials focusing on hop agronomy and varietal selection will occur on certified organic ground on several cooperator farms in Oregon and Washington. These field trials emphasize a whole systems approach that includes the use of cover crops, intercrops, fertility and irrigation treatments, beneficial insect monitoring and diverse hop varieties to optimize hop cone yield and quality while suppressing weeds, disease and detrimental insects. We anticipate that results from this trial will have positive short-range outcomes, including the identification of varieties that perform well in organic systems and increasing producer familiarity with and knowledge about sustainable hop production. Medium range outcomes will be evaluated through the successful development of integrated hop farms, a change in acreage of organic hop production and a documented exchange of chemical usage in conventional hop production for biological disease and insect control methods. Field days in Washington and Oregon will complement trade, extension, online and academic journal publications in an effort to reach the maximum number of producers, extension, researchers and industry professionals. This project was conceived and designed by PNW hop farmers in close communication with Washington State University and Oregon State University researchers and extension personnel. Significantly, the hop growers in the area intend to use portions of this research on their conventional ground to reduce inputs in their quest toward regional agricultural sustainability. This proposal offers a multi-institutional, multi-state team of farmers, scientists and extension specialists the opportunity to improve the production of low-input and organically grown hops.
Project objectives from proposal:
1. Formalize an advisory committee of organic and low-input hop growers and establish grower roundtable discussions in Washington and Oregon
2. Identify high quality hop varieties optimally adapted to low-input and organic production systems
3. Evaluate in-row cover crops for weed suppression, disease and insect control, fertility enhancement, creation of beneficial insect habitat and positive varietal interactions
4. Evaluate drive-row intercrops for fertility management, beneficial insect attractants, impacts on disease and insect pressure, drought resistance and soil quality effects
5. Conduct effective outreach through field days on growers fields in Washington and Oregon and publication of results in a wide range of media
6. Develop an educational product, entitled the Handbook of Sustainable Hop Production, for growers focusing on organic, low-input, biologically diverse hop production.