New Project at ISU Horticulture Station Offers Research on Growing Hops

Growers learn of work required to grow hops for making beer

August 18, 2015, 2:49 pm | Diana Cochran, Nick Howell

Diana CochranAMES, Iowa – Only one acre is planted, with nearly 1,000 plants, but it required a lot of work and a team of horticulturists to accomplish the new hops endeavor at the Iowa State University Horticulture Research Station north of Ames. The project, led by Diana Cochran, assistant professor and extension fruit specialist with Iowa State University, had several phases.

“At the annual Fruit and Vegetable Field Day held on Aug. 10, we provided growers the opportunity to see what happens when research and demonstrations come together,” Cochran said. “The thing everyone was surprised at was how much work is involved with the new hops project.”

Initial steps began in fall 2014. Nick Howell, superintendent for the ISU Horticulture Research Station, said it took a lot of preparation in setting 100 poles in the ground to support the trellis. “The 24-foot-tall black locust poles needed to be five feet underground and we had to set 100 of them before the hard freeze,” said Howell. Construction of the trellis wire system was finished in spring 2015.

According to Cochran, although the hops are doing well, this will be the establishment year. “The station’s hops yard includes 720 Cascade and 300 Chinook hops plants, spaced 3.5 to 4 feet apart within a row, allowing 10 feet between rows,” Cochran said. “While local breweries have expressed interest, we will not have an available crop this year.”

Cochran reminded field day attendees that growing hops is no easy task; it is an intensive crop to manage during the growing season and the work does not stop at harvest. Processing the hops can be an even bigger challenge without the proper equipment, such as a mechanical harvester, drier, cold storage, etc.

“Production costs are approximately $10,000 to $15,000 per acre," Cochran explained. "This includes installation of the poles, irrigation and trellis lines, plus planting and training the plants, but does not include harvesting costs. The final processing phase includes drying the hops at a certain moisture and temperature. After they’ve been dried, the hops must be kept in cold storage until they are bailed or pelletized and shipped to a buyer."

Currently in Iowa, there are commercial hops growers and more farmers are looking to diversify, Cochran said. “The goal of Iowa State’s project is to evaluate hop cultivars under Iowa growing conditions and determine fertility programs," she said. "It also gives hobbyists a glimpse of how much work is really involved with the trellis system."

Future studies include looking into irrigation management and fertility, including timing and growth rate of the plants.

[PHOTO] Diana Cochran is leading the hops experiment at the ISU Horticulture Research Station. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

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