Assistant Professor, Horticulture
Iowa State University
Nearly 1,000 hops plants now grow at the Iowa State University Horticulture Research Station, located north of Ames. The project, led by Diana Cochran, an assistant professor and extension fruit specialist with Iowa State University, is evaluating hop cultivars under Iowa growing conditions, determining fertility programs for hops and irrigation systems.
The annual Fruit and Vegetable Field Day held on Aug. 10 at the Horticulture Station, provided growers a first-hand look at the extensive trellis system involved, as well as explanations of how to grow hops and why people are interested in the crop. People are often surprised to see and hear how much work is involved with the new hops project.
Initial steps for the project began in the fall of 2014. One hundred, 24-foot tall, black locust poles needed to be placed five feet underground to support the trellis prior to a hard freeze. Construction of the trellis wire system was finished in spring 2015.
The station’s hops yard includes 720 Cascade and 300 Chinook hops plants. Each plant is spaced 3.5 to 4 feet apart within a row, and 10 feet between rows. This year, none of the hops will be able to be used by local breweries, as hops require an establishment phase.
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 in growing hops are approximately $10,000 to $15,000 per acre. 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.