Development of Organic Hop Production in the Pacific Northwest

2012 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 tasks 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 Washington State. 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 the increase in 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 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 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 project 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 State.

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 publication of results in a wide range of media.

6. Develop an educational product for growers focusing on organic, low-input, biologically diverse hop production.


1. Obtained the second year of yield data, including green weight, cone weight (green and dry), pounds per string, pounds per hill and mg/cone on 16 varieties grown on an organic hop farm in the Yakima Valley. Varieties include: Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, Cluster, Fuggle, Galena, Glacier, Mt. Hood, Newport, Nugget, Perle, Santiam, Sterling, Tettnang, Vanguard and Willamette. This data has been analyzed along with 2011 data and is currently being written up for publication to growers and scientists

2. Obtained second year quality data, including alpha acid, beta acid and H.S.I on the 16 varieties (see #1 above) grown on an organic farm in the Yakima Valley.

3. Current graduate student Erin Hightower is analyzing and writing up this data. We expect to have a manuscript sent out for publication in Summer/Fall 2013.

4. Obtained second year yield and quality data on three varieties that were grown on one organic farm in the Yakima Valley in a cover crop trial. These varieties included Cascade, Centennial and Wilamette.

5. Obtained second year weed suppression and cover crop data from each of eight cover crop treatments tested on one organic farm in the Yakima Valley in 2012. This data includes stem counts of weed and cover crop species and biomass of weed and cover crop species.

6. Graduate student Sam Turner successfully published the cover crop trial data in his MS thesis, and our hop team is in the process of publishing two papers from his thesis (one chapter was published in Agronomy Journal in 2011). One will be sent to a peer-reviewed academic journal and the other will be published as a WSU extension paper.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

2012 is the last year non-organic hops can be used in certified organic beer. Therefore, the transition from conventional to organic hops will be a major issue in 2013 that will need to be solved by brewers and hop farmers. Our research data are in the process of final analysis, and dissemination of major results began in 2012 and will continue in 2013. In particular, our research addresses the question of varietal selection in organic hopyards and weed management through cover cropping in organic hopyards.

1. Presented research results at the Organic Hop Field Day in Toppenish, WA in August, 2012.

2. Presented a poster of our research results on organic hop weed management at the International Humulus Symposium in the Czech Republic.

Turner, S. and K. Murphy (2012). Cover cropping systems for organic hop production in the Yakima Valley, USA. Zatec, Czech Republic, September 11, 2012.

3. Presented a poster of our research results on cover cropping with hops at the WSU Academic Showcase.

Turner, S. and K. Murphy (2012) Evaluating cover crops for weed suppression in organic hopyards. WSU Academic Showcase, Pullman, WA, March 30, 2012.


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