Contract Period : 21/04/2021 - 31/12/2023
Project Webpage : https://www.innovativefarmers.org/field-labs/organic-hop-varieties/
Main Funder : Innovative Farmers
ORC Staff Contact : Isabel Mackintosh
Hop production in the UK is in decline, with only three organic hops growers now existing. Pressures from climate change, restrictions in chemical usage and changes in the market favouring US West Coast hops are all contributing factors to this decline. There are also many challenges to growing hops organically in the UK including high disease and insect pressures, competition from weeds and low nitrogen availability. The Organic Hop Varieties Field Lab brings together partners from across the supply chain to tackle the challenges of organic hop supply, availability and price. Participatory Varietal Selection (PVS) is used to test varieties for disease resistance in low nitrogen environments at a small scale. The inclusion of breeders, brewers and hop merchants as well as the growers in the project allows for issues to be addressed collectively as well as expertise and learning to be shared.
The project has the aim to improve and secure the availability of UK grown organic hops through the following set of primary objectives:
Bring together key stakeholders in the organic hops supply chain including breeders, merchants, growers and brewers to address the issues collectively.
Identify varieties and breeding lines suitable for organic production and test these in field trials in commercial organic hop gardens.
Assess hop variety characteristics and qualities for brewing through lab analysis and brewing tests
Raise awareness of the challenges of UK hop growing through field lab KE activities, engaging consumers through a parallel marketing campaign involving a collaboration with River Cottage and their Food to Inspire Change partnership
Secondary objectives include:
Propose and test management strategies to improve organic UK hop production e.g., companion planting, planting density, and varietal mixtures.
Compare organic and conventional hop growing systems in terms of soil health, carbon and biodiversity
Certain varieties across both of the farms have been successful over the three years, these look favourable for organic farming systems and will be taken forward in future trials. The two hop farms in the project grow different types of hop varieties with one growing dwarf and the other tall varieties. The dwarf hop varieties that have been successful in the trials so far include 65/2011/24 and Endeavour. In the tall hop varieties Harlequin has proved to be the most successful.
Several knowledge exchange events have engaged the farmers, brewers, merchants and researchers creating an engaged group of project participants.
The project is concluding at the end of 2023, but plans are now underway to secure funding to continue to support the development of an organic hops industry in the UK so that we can have organic beer produced from local ingredients for the UK market.
ORC is the crop researcher within the project. The researcher’s role is to compile the information and data from the breeders, merchants and growers to assess which hop varieties are suitable to organic systems and should be used again in the trials. The researcher’s role is also to engage the project partner members in knowledge exchange events throughout the years.