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Hop Shoots Farming in India

Hop Shoots

Organic Hop Shoots Farming in India

The hop plant (Humulus lupulus) is a member of the Cannabaeceae family and it is a perennial with a permanent rootstock called the crown. Hop shoots come from Hops, and the flowers are also called seed cones. They are used mainly as a bittering, flavoring, and stability agent in beer. In addition to its bitterness, they impart floral, fruity, or citrus flavors and aromas to beer. The hop plant is a dioecious perennial climbing plant, and it is known for its use in the brewing industry. Hops are also used for several purposes in other beverages and herbal medicine. As the demand for organic Hops is expected to increase, farmers are now faced with the challenges of growing Hops organically. Organic farming means no use of chemicals to fight off harmful insects and diseases, which can spread quickly and destroy entire crops. Also, it means that using chemical fertilizers to help plant growth is prohibited, placing organic farmers at a considerable disadvantage compared to non-organic growers. In this article we also discuss the below topics about Hops Farming;

  • Can Hops be grown in India?
  • How much is an acre of Hops worth
  • How much can you make growing an acre of hops?
  • What climate do hops grow in?
  • Why are Hops so expensive?
  • Do Hop plants come back every year?
  • How do you grow organic hops?
  • Is growing Hops a profitable business
  • How do you propagate Hop plants?
  • Challenges of organic Hop shoots Farming

A Step by Step Guide to Organic Hop Shoots Farming

The Hops plant is a vigorous, climbing, herbaceous perennial plant, usually trained to grow up strings in a field called a Hop field when grown commercially. Currently, organic Hop production makes up a small but steadily increasing percentage of the worldwide Hop supply. Demand for organically grown Hops from consumers via the brewing industry is on the rise, due to high nitrogen requirements and severe disease, weed, and arthropod pressures, Hops are an extremely difficult crop to grow organically.

What is Hops Crop and why is Hops So Expensive?

The Hop plant is known as Humulus lupulus, a member of the Cannabaeceae family, commonly called Hop Shoots, whose flowers are of significant market value. The several properties of the flowers help in the preparation of beer and thus the price. The flowers are also called Hop cones; impart bitterness, flavor, and also act as stabilizing agents in beer manufacturing.

The Hop crop is very useful when it comes to medicinal usage. Hop shoots are used to make antibodies that help fight against TB. Also, Hop acids, namely, humulones and lupulones, have been shown to kill cancer cells along with blocking leukemia cells from further damaging the bones. Hop shoots help in cleansing the skin and giving it a gleam as they contain antioxidants.

Fast-growing Hops need several nutrients and water with critical timing of applications. Some issues should be considered to achieve optimal organic Hop production. Because Hops are clonally reproduced and grown across entire fields for multiple years, crops are genetically uniform. Then, this results in increased susceptibility to diseases and pests. Identifying Hop varieties that are resistant to common diseases, and also capable of achieving significant growth with a limited nitrogen supply, is important to organic Hop success.

Different Types of Hop Farming

Hop cultivars developed for brewing are divided into 2 main groups;

  • Bittering Hops have high levels of specific acids and that produce bitterness in beer.
  • Aroma Hops have a lower content of bittering acids and a more balanced essential oil profile that imparts pleasant aroma and flavor properties to beer.

Ornamental Hops have desirable foliage characteristics like an unusual color (for example, yellow or purple), but may produce cones. Therefore, the Hop cultivar you choose depends on the intended use, which for homeowners is usually for home brewing or ornamental purposes.

Preferred Hop Varieties

Organic Conventional
Golding Northern Brewer
Pacific Gem Cascade
Fuggles Mt. Hood
Nugget Kent Golding (BC Golding)
Hallertauer Fuggles
Spalt Select Hallertauer
Cascade Sterling
Saaz

Area and Production of Hops

European countries like Britain and Germany, have been cultivating Hop shoots since the 15th century and now the US is the world’s largest Hop producing country followed by Germany.

The Indian government has been doing lots of research in the agricultural department for a long time now and although Bihar has become the first state to cultivate Hop shoots in India, other states are not far behind.

In a small district in Bihar, a state where 34% of the population is below the poverty line, a farmer cultivating a Hop crop with the international market value of approximately 1000 euros which is about Rs. 82,000 per kg. Being the most expensive vegetable in the world, the Hop has rarely been sighted in the global market, let alone, in the national one.

Soil Requirement for Organic Hop Shoots Farming

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Soil Requirement for Organic Hop Shoots Farming

A deep well-drained, sandy loam soil is best for Hops Farming. A soil with a pH level of 6 to 7.0 is ideal for Hop production. Hop plants require fertile, well-drained soil. While becoming established, the crown needs frequent watering but cannot tolerate excessive moisture or pooling. And, commercial growers often use drip irrigation. Throughout the life of the Hop plant, nutrients can be provided by adding compost and growing legume cover crops. Many growers plant clover or other green manures between rows to minimize weed competition and provide nitrogen is an important consideration. The biggest issue for organic Hop production is nitrogen. Hops require up to 200 lbs. /ac. (224 kg/ha) of nitrogen in a very short window (about 6 weeks).

A critical part of this Hop root system is the fine fibrous feeder root system that re-forms each spring in the top about 6 inches of nutrient-rich topsoil. Individual feeder roots only last for 5 to 7 days before being replaced by new ones in a continual process. Roots accumulate nutrients and water that come in direct contact with them. Most nutrient-collecting roots develop in the top 6 to 8 inches of soil because that’s where the microbes, nutrients, and oxygen are located. Though, nutrient uptake grinds to a halt if soil oxygen levels and exchange rates with the atmosphere are limited by soil compaction. The perfect rooting conditions are nutrient-rich and well-aerated soils with adequate moisture present.

Climate and Land Requirement for Organic Hop Shoots Farming

Hops begin to sprout from the ground in March, the stems are plentiful, though they are weak, and need to be pruned. Pruning consists of cutting the plant stems and new wood. The crops should be treated so as not to damage the old wood, which could lead to the wilting of the entire bine. Before planting, the land is carefully dragged and Hop poles and wires are set up.

Normally, Hop production is limited to regions above 35°N or S latitude. A dormant period with 5 to 6 weeks of near-freezing temperatures is required for optimal growth, and Hop crowns can survive temperatures of –25°C or lower when insulated by snow or soil. Ideal soil types vary considerably, but all should be deep and well-drained to promote optimal growth of the large root mass of the Hop plant. The perennial root system of a well-developed plant can grow more than 4 m deep and up to 5 m laterally. This extensive root system is necessary for uptake and storage of the water and nutrients essential to facilitate rapid growth in the spring and summer months.

Propagation for Hop Shoots Farming

The most common method of propagating Hop plants is to dig up the crown early in the spring and harvest rhizomes from the rootstalk. And, a mature crown will send out dozens of shoots below the ground, many with buds that will produce new bines if replanted. Rhizomes should be cut from mature crowns (at least 3 years old) that are well established and in full production.

Most of the new plants’ energy will be put toward establishing the crown, and, for this reason, growth above ground can be limited during the first year. As well, flowering can be sporadic and limited, and varietal characteristics do not become consistent until the plants are well established and mature.

Hops are propagated from runners that arise from the crown just below the soil surface. The runners are cut into pieces 6 to 8 inches long, each bearing at least 2 sets of buds. Cuttings must be planted immediately or if not, stored in a cool, moist, well-ventilated place. Cuttings that are poorly developed, damaged, or diseased should not be planted.

Advantages of Organic Hop Shoots Farming

Environmental Benefit – Organic farming improves soil fertility, enhances biodiversity, and reduces the negative impact of harmful chemicals, the environment will benefit from additional acreage being farmed organically. Also, increasing the Hop production and use of organic Hops will reduce the carbon footprint that is produced each time organic brewers source their Hops from overseas.

Increased Demand – The Hop industry will benefit from the increased demand for organic Hops. Increased sales will help develop a viable organic Hop industry. Also, by sharing agronomic practices, non-organic Hop production will benefit from organic methods that are less disruptive and more sustainable. Also, many organic Hops are grown on small farms, connecting the organic farmer with organic brewers will give these farmers a chance to find a profitable niche in the Hop industry.

Some important points to be considered for organic Hop Shoots farming;

  • Soil compaction, drainage issues
  • Improper soil pH, corrective actions
  • Drip irrigation, poor water quality
  • Understanding the importance of complete soil testing
  • Selecting the right fertilizers
  • Removing underground rhizome growth
  • Weed control issues
  • Tilling and Farming schedules
  • Fungicide interactions with nutrients
  • Selection /management of cover crops
  • Scouting for pests and diseases
  • Checking for and controlling nematodes
  • Better knowledge of pests and their controls
  • Proper site selection
  • Mulches and compost application
  • Timing and depth of crowning, and bine mowing before training

Care in Organic Hop Shoots Farming

Hops can be grown in a wide variety of climates like semiarid, maritime, humid continental, and sub-tropical regions, with different cultivars being more adapted to different climatic conditions. With your rhizomes in hand, you can begin preparing to plant Hops. These Hop plants grow as vines, so you want to have a few specific conditions met before sowing the rhizome.

Hardiness Zone – Hop plants grow best in Hardiness Zones 5 through 9, but do well in most moderate climates. Some plant varieties are made to be heat-resistant, which opens up additional hardiness zones for growing Hops.

Planting Location – Pick a location that can support a trellis of some kind while providing southern exposure. The soil should be well-drained and have a pH level of 6.0 to 7.0. Also, you can grow Hops in a large pot, but don’t expect to move those containers once the vine takes off.

Trellis – There are plenty of options for constructing a trellis, but the important thing you must know is that a Hop vine can grow up to about 30 feet tall, so be sure to consider that. Commercial growers install poles for the vines to climb. If you have a two-story home or barn, you can install eye hooks along a roof overhang and run twine down to the plants.

Planting procedure – Dig holes about 1 foot deep for each rhizome and then apply some nutrients and include compost on a 1:1 mix with a standard soil blend. Then, plant about 5 feet from other Hop rhizomes to keep the two vines from tangling. Rhizomes must be situated vertically when covered. Keep the soil evenly watered without drenching.

Hop Vines – When vines reach about 1 foot long, begin to wind them around your trellis in a clockwise direction. Then, you can expect them to grow up to a foot per day during ideal conditions.

Shoots – Each plant rhizome will send up several shoots. Once picked one to allow vining, cut all the others as they emerge.

Watering – In their first year of growth, Hop plants will have a minimal root system. You have to mulch the surface to help retain moisture.

Methods followed in Organic Hop Shoots Farming

Commercial Hop growers use a trellising system that spaces posts 18- foot in height in rows approximately every 50 feet (15 m), with rows spaced anywhere from 5 to 10 feet apart. The spacing mainly depends on the size of equipment used for mowing, tilling, and harvesting between rows. The infrastructure is tied together with strong wire, aircraft cable, and stabilized by angling the outermost posts and staking them with guy wires. Conventional growers use pressure-treated posts, while organic growers want to find a quality source of rot-resistant timber. Red and white cedar are popular choices, but growers must plan (and budget for) the occasional replacement of posts.

Once the Hop plants are established, it’s recommended to monitor the Hops regularly to ensure pests, diseases, and other problems are kept at bay. Nutrient shortages can be detected early through browning or yellowing plant leaves and stunted growth of the bines.

Planting Process in Organic Hop Shoots Farming

Step 1) Site selection can make or break Hop growth. Hop plants prefer 6-8 hours of full sun each day; southern exposure is best, but east- and west-facing sites also produce good yields. Select sites that shelter plants to prevent wind damage.

Step 2) Plant Hops with at least 10 to 20 feet of vertical climbing space and close to a vertical support structure like a trellis, fence, or building. Hop plants can be heavy, so make sure the twine is securely anchored.

Step 3) Rhizomes can withstand early spring frosts and must be planted as soon as soil can be worked. Mulching Hop hill provides additional protection for rhizomes against cold spring temperatures. Established rhizomes can tolerate deep winter freezes.

Step 4) Soil for Hops must be loose, porous, and well-draining; standing water can result in root rot and molds. To ensure proper drainage for Hops, choose a naturally mounded site or build a “hill” a few inches tall using sandy soil.

Step 5) Before planting, prepare a 4-inch deep trench with a mixture of compost, cottonseed meal, and bone meal or rock phosphate. Plant rhizomes horizontally in the trench and cover with 1 inch of soil and refrigerate rhizomes until planting.

Step 6) To prevent crowding, plant the same cultivars about 3 feet apart and different cultivars 5 feet apart. Crowded Hop plants are more susceptible to pest infestations and mold and can result in shade damage to the Hop plant.

Step 7) Overwatering is the main reason for failing Hop bines, especially for first-year plants, which have a minimal root system and require less water than subsequent years’ crops. Then, allow the soil to dry between watering. Watering in early mornings allows plants to dry during the day, and also preventing mold and rot.

Irrigation Requirement for Organic Hop Shoots Farming

Organic Hop systems that rely on cover crops may require a different approach to irrigation in some areas. The establishment of beneficial cover crops likely will need overhead irrigation in drier climates, which will increase humidity.

Irrigation issues – Irrigation is a lot more complex than most growers realize. Hops have shallow and deep root systems and it is the shallow root system in the top 6 inches of topsoil that is responsible for most of the nutrient and water uptake during the short formative high growth phases of climbing the trellis and forming cones. Apply drip irrigation to deliver water and supplemental plant nutrients. Selecting the right irrigation system design; how it is installed and operated are important issues.

Wrong dripper spacing – Emitter spacing on the drip tube must be matched to ideally create a minimum of two wet zones on each side of the Hop plant. For example, if Hops planted 36 inches apart should use a drip tube with emitters spaced every 18 inches. Hops plant at 48 inches would use 24 inches emitter spacing. Mismatched drip emitter spacing delivers more water to some plants than the others in the row and results in uneven plant growth.

Pruning and Training in Organic Hop Shoots Farming

Hops can grow upwards of about 2 feet a week in late spring and early summer. As they grow, wrap bines on vertical supports to promote vertical growth and also proper spacing. Growth will slow in mid-summer, as Hop plants enter the flowering stage.

In the spring season, Hops emerge from dormancy and can be chemically pruned to encourage strong, succulent secondary shoot growth and reduce disease. Because bines take about 3 to 4 weeks to regrow after pruning before they are ready for training, the timing of plant pruning is also critical.

After the first successful year of plant growth, prune the first set of shoots each subsequent spring, and prune the second set of shoots back to the largest 3 to 4 bines. Then, these shoots are harder, resulting in sturdier plant growth. Throughout the growing season, prune all subsequent shoots from the base of the Hop plant to funnel energy into the bine.

Fertilizer Requirement for Organic Hop Shoots Farming

Fertilizing Hop plants improves yield and quality by supplying the crop with ample nutrition in advance of demand. Apply organic fertilizers to ensure continued quality and production of Hop. Also, nitrogen for green, leafy plant growth, Hops need a significant amount of both potassium and phosphorous to produce quality Hops. Fertilize the plant with a phosphorous content double that of nitrogen. Trace minerals like boron, iron, and manganese are also beneficial for plant growth. Generally, nitrogen-heavy fertilizers will promote vine development, but result in low cone alpha acid content, affecting brews.

Selecting and applying the right combination of fertilizers to plants is a definite grower skill.  It requires knowing the soil profile/pH level, the irrigation water quality, the individual Hop varieties, understanding soil/foliar tests, and some pretty complex nutrient interactions. Successful Hop plant growers find that applying a combined program of organic, granular, and drip line fed soluble fertilizers at appropriate times of the growing season is the most successful.

Weed Management in Organic Hop Shoots Farming

Weed management in Hops reduces competition for soil moisture and available nutrients. For small Hop yards, manually removing weeds (chipping) can be an option. Consider mulching the young Hop plants, which will not only suppress weed growth but also help retain soil moisture and build soil organic carbon.

Pests and Diseases Management in Organic Hop Shoots Farming

Downy Mildew is a disease that is entirely exclusive to the Hop plant. Occurring most in humid conditions, Downy Mildew disease completely stunts the growth of a Hop shoot, and the farmer must address the infection immediately. The grower must remove the diseased shoot to prevent the loss of the entire crop. Hop aphids and spider mites are the common insects to attack the Hop plant. In our region, the Hop aphid is a more likely challenge, one that can be prevented through the application of insecticide or the introduction of a ladybug population.

Powdery mildew disease can affect yield and cone quality. Symptoms of powdery mildew are cultivar-specific. Sulfur and copper-based fungicides organically control powdery mildew disease.

Aphids and spider mites are common Hop plant pests and can be treated with insecticidal soaps and oils and beneficial insects.

Disease prevention in organic Hops will rely heavily on breeding efforts that focus on disease resistance, as well as careful screening efforts. Reducing the extent to which a monoculture is present in the organic Hops by alternating varieties planted likely reduces the rate of infection but would also increase labor costs. Organic control of Hops diseases will need to involve a combination of approaches to keep levels low like proper site design, good sanitation, resistant or tolerant varieties, forecasting, and the use of organically approved fungicidal products. Biological controls and resistant varieties would greatly increase the success of organic Hop production. The current value of approved organic bio-controls registered for Hops should be determined.

Cost of Hops per Kg in India

The price or cost of Hops flower extract in the market is approximately anywhere between Rs 2,000 to 5,000 per kg, while the cost of production is quite high. Farmers in foreign countries are equipped with modern methods of farming to enhance production and cut down the expenditure of labor cost.

When and How to Harvest Hops

Generally, Hop cones can be picked by hand or mechanically. Most Hop growers who harvest the crop mechanically use some stationary picking machines. The vines are cut loose from the hill and the trellis wires around 4 feet from the ground. Generally, harvest Hops before the first fall frost in late August or September, when the aroma is strongest. When Hops are ready to harvest, the lupulin gland will be yellow and sticky when the cone is broken open. Harvest Hops plants from the end of the bine first, moving towards the rhizome.

Two things are needed for drying Hops like air circulation and time. Then, cones can be dried on a screen outside out of the sun, in a brown paper bag with daily shaking, with a food dehydrator, or in the oven at the lowest setting. Hops are dry when the inner stem of the cone is brittle and then easy to break. Then, store Hops away from heat and oxygen to extend shelf life. Hop cones can be stored in the refrigerator for several months or can be frozen in bags for up to a year.

Hops Yield per Acre

Hop yields are mainly cultivar-dependent; the average yield of Hops is approximately 800-1500 pounds per acre if you are following good Farming practices.