Many PEI growers have already discovered the rich red soil that has made this province the number one potato producer is also conducive to growing soybeans.
Now, another new crop could be on the horizon—hops. Aaron Mills said the top three hops producing areas south of the border are Washington, Idaho and Oregon. All three are also major potato growing areas, and Mills said that is no coincidence.
“The attributes that make a soil good for potato production also make for good hops production,” he said during a workshop held as part of the annual meeting of the Atlantic Canada Organic Regional Network.
Mills, a researcher with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, said a demonstration hopyard for the 2013 season is being established at Harrington Farm. He said testing will be conducted on 20 different hops varieties for their suitability for the Maritime climate.
“If we are going to compete to supply product for the craft brewing industry, it has to be of highest quality,” Mills told the crowd of approximately 50 delegates.
In addition to its use as a major component in beer-making, Mills said hops have a variety of other uses. They can be used to treat skin sores, flavouring for a number of deserts and baked goods, as well as a treatment for certain types of cancer since they contain phytoestrogen. The shoots can also be eaten much like asparagus.
He said there are indications there could be a shortage of some types of hops within the next few years. Mills said hops have a major impact on the taste of beer and are used to control such things as the level of bitterness and the aroma.
“Craft brewers are becoming more sophticated and they are focusing more on the aroma,” Mills told the delegates. “They are using various combinations of hops in an attempt to get the flavour just right. He explained hops can be grown through both a high trellis and a low trellis method. The former is essentially allowing each vine on the pole to reach its maximum height. The low method sees the vines essentially spread out between the poles.
Mills explained there are positive and negatives about its method. He said the low trellis is easier to maintain and harvest. On the other hand, he said, hops produce their maximum yield when they reach their maximum height.
He said some varieties have been grown at Harrington the last two years. Since hops like plenty of moisture, he said the 2011 crop fared much better than this year. He explained “we didn’t irrigate at all so the leaves got pretty dry.”
Mills said hops have a high demand for nitrogen, potassium and sulfur. However, he said they need more boron than Maritime soils provide adding that would have to be added if the crop were grown on a commercial scale. He said weeds are the biggest problem facing hops growers, and it is important to hoe, mow and mulch on a regular basis. He added there are also some chemicals that can be used like acetic acid and clove oil.
As for pests, he said caterpillars have been the biggest problem. He said part of the reason for setting up the demonstration hopyard is to develop techniques for handling pests. Mills explained half of the hops on the two acre site will be grown conventionally and the other half organically.
He said timing is critical for harvest, to make sure the hops will have the desired impact. Mills said more and more craft brewers are asking for the hops to be shipped to them as a pelletized product that is vacuum sealed.
Mills said he is working with the Maritime Hops Growers Co-op to develop a best management practices manual for the industry.