Development of Organic Hop Production in the Pacific Northwest

2010 Annual Report for SW09-050

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2009: $123,465.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Western
State: Washington
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Kevin Murphy
Washington State University

Development of Organic Hop Production in the Pacific Northwest


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.

Objectives/Performance Targets

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.


Twenty hop varieties were planted in 2010 at three locations in Washington State, two locations in Michigan and one location in Vermont in a fully replicated and randomized design to test for varietal adaptation to organic hop systems. Additionally, in a separate study, four hop varieties in combination with eight cover crop treatments were planted in organic hop yards at two locations to test for: weed suppression ability of cover crops, fertility enhancement, effects on aphid and spider mite populations and hop cone yield and quality. As with the variety trials, hop plant and cover crop establishment were the primary goals for 2010. In-depth data collection will begin in the spring of 2011. A nitrogen use efficiency pilot study is underway in a WSU greenhouse. Eight varieties are being tested for several nitrogen-use related traits under four different nitrogen regimes. One M.S. graduate student, Sam Turner, is being advised by Kevin Murphy at WSU and Sam’s primary project will be to conduct the cover crop field trials and greenhouse nitrogen use efficiency trials.

On January 23, 2010, Kevin Murphy gave an invited talk at the American Hop Convention to approximately 150 hop growers, researchers, brewers and hop commission representatives, entitled “Plant breeding and agronomy of organic hops.” An organic hop symposium, coordinated by Kevin Murphy, was held in the Yakima Valley in Washington State September 6-10, 2010. This symposium was a combination of a project director’s meeting, the bi-annual advisory committee meeting and hop production training workshop. Approximately 40 people participated, including farmers, researchers, writers, hop commission representatives and brewers from Washington, California, Colorado, Vermont, Indiana and Michigan. This symposium also included 1) training and field trips to multiple demonstration sites for organic hop production and processing, and 2)workshops for new hop farmers delivered by WSU scientists and experienced hop growers.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

The organic hop symposium resulted in several examples of changes in knowledge. Farmers from other states discovered novel hop production techniques from speaking with Washington State farmers that will result in alterations to growing practices. Prinicpal among these novel hop production techniques included low-trellis system production, irrigation and misting practices, insect monitoring schedules and methods, hop variety x system interactions, harvest technology that will be suitable for scaled-down organic hop processing and plant spacing/tillage methods. Additionally, farmers from Washington, while well versed in hop production, learned about general organic agronomic practices from farmers and extension personnel. It is this union of advanced hop production expertise with knowledge and experience in organic production systems that spurred the most animated conversations during the symposium and resulted in greater knowledge for all participants. Additional changes in knowledge occurred during the symposium from discussions with and presentations by WSU virologist Ken Eastwell and WSU hop breeder Stephen Kenny. We anticipate that these changes in knowledge in 2010 will result in significant changes in actions during the 2011 growing season.


Lori Hoagland

[email protected]
Post-doctoral Associate in Soil Science
Washington State University
291 Johnson Hall
Pullman, WA 99164-6420
Office Phone: 5093354877
Scot Hulbert

[email protected]
Professor of Cropping Systems and Plant Pathology
Washington State University
Johnson Hall 307
Pullman, WA 99164
Office Phone: 5093353722
Melissa Matthewson

Small Farms Extension Coordinator
Oregon State University
Southern Oregon Research & Extension Center
569 Hanley Road
Central Point, OR 97503
Office Phone: 5417767371