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Keeping it Green: High on hops

PHOTO PROVIDED The 18-foot trellised hop plants form green walls over the farm.

By TOM BUTZLER

(Editor’s Note: This article is the eighth in a series exploring professional opportunities for Penn State Extension agricultural educators during the 2019 summer.)

A few years ago, several Penn State extension educators and specialists received a grant for a one-acre hop yard to evaluate cultivars suitable for Pennsylvania. It was exciting and romantic; working with a new crop and growing a major component of the developing craft brew industry.

Be careful what you wish for! One summer was spent installing the trellis system and everything that could go wrong went wrong. Once that monstrosity was built, we wrestled with the intricacies of growing hop plants. Who knew that dealing with spider mites, downy mildew, weather events, and harvesting of an 18-foot plant would be such a joy?

While Pennsylvania might have about 100 acres in hop production, Oregon is at about 7,500 acres (behind Washington and Idaho). Driving around the Willamette Valley, the crop stuck out like a sore thumb, kind of like vineyards on steroids (again, that 18-foot trellised plant). So, it was with great anticipation that our final tour stop on Day 2 was the Crosby Hop Farm.

PHOTO PROVIDED It is only the female flowers that are desirable (male flowers are on a separate plant) in the brewing process.

This farm has been in hop production since 1900, founded by Albert and Mary Crosby. Just like the previous stop (Bauman Farms), this is a generational farm handed down over the years to Blake Crosby (5th generation).

It’s a pretty large operation. While I thought wrangling a one-acre operation was complicated, I can’t imagine managing their 420 acres. Many of their practices were similar to what we do (or should I say our practices are similar to theirs as the Pacific Northwest grows around 97 of the US crop).

And maybe agriculture isn’t so much different from area to area. Take water concerns. In the past, their thirsty hop plants would be irrigated with overhead sprinklers; labor intensive to set up and water all over the place. The whole operation has converted to drip irrigation so that water is applied only to the base of the plant. Not only does this conserve water, but it prevents runoff and allows easy application of fertilizer (through the tubes). This effort, along with many others, have been recognized with several certifications that show their commitment to sustainability and innovation.

Hops, flowers of the plant, can do many different things to beer. Some are used as a bittering agent while other varieties impart floral, citrus, or fruity flavors. In order to meet brewer’s various demands, Crosby Hop Farm grows about 75 different varieties.

While harvest season had yet to start, our group did tour the processing/warehouse operation. Hope cones can be used in brewing, but they become unstable in a short period of time. To preserve the cone brewing properties, they are pelletized. This allows them to be stored for a longer period of time and shipped all over the US to your favorite craft brewer.

And of course, we did get to sample some products that were made with their hops. Day 2 came to an end and we headed back to our lodging. I will pick up the next article with Day 3 tours centered around grass.

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Tom Butzler is a horticulture educator with the Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension Service and may be reached at 570-726-0022.

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