Plant physiologist and researcher at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center, Shinsuke Agehara, is studying the potential of growing hops in Florida. His research focuses on the production of hops and how it will grow in Florida’s climate.
The exact amount of hops production in Florida is unknown at this time. Many growers are trying to grow hops on a small scale, typically producing no more than 1 acre of the crop. The amount of hops growers produce depends on how much they are willing to spend. If growers want to produce hops at the same scale as commercial growers in the Pacific Northwest, they have to build 20-foot-tall trellises, which come at a high production cost.
Some growers are trying low trellises, and others are trying high trellises. Everyone’s trying something different because there isn’t a lot of information available about growing hops. “We don’t know what variety is best, we don’t know the production practices, and also our climate is so much different from the commercial production in the Pacific Northwest,” said Agehara. “We are on the opposite corner of the United States, and we have to overcome the challenges of not having the optimum environment.”
One factor of hops production being studied is different day lengths. “We found that day length is the main environmental factor that is important for growing hops. Hop plants produce flowers when day length is shorter than 15 hours,” said Agehara. “In the Pacific Northwest, between May and July, day length is more than 15 hours, so plants don’t produce flowers. They keep growing only the vegetative growth. The plants initiate the biomass before the initial flowering. In July, the day length begins to shorten. The initial flowering and older plants are flowering at the same time so they can do a single harvest.”
In Florida, day length is always shorter than 15 hours. The longest the state receives is 14 hours. That means initial flowering occurs when the plants are very small, so they can never grow big. “We have to harvest multiple times because we don’t have the transition from vegetative growth to flower production; it goes on at the same time,” said Agehara.
“We use LED lights so we can change the day length in the field. We found that the LED lights are very effective. So far, we haven’t seen any production yet since beginning the trials with LED light,” said Agehara. “We just turned off the light last week so we are expecting the plants’ initial flower production very soon. This season, we hope to turn it into a single harvest.”
Until yields can be measured, it is uncertain if hop production will offer profitability for Florida growers. “We are trying to maximize production by using different techniques and tools. Once we know how much we can produce, then we can figure out how profitable it is,” explained Agehara.
With so many breweries now in Florida, the demand for locally grown hops is extremely high. “The demand for hops is growing nationwide, and there is always a shortage of hops,” said Agehara. “We can produce hops when other states can’t. We could provide hops when there might be a shortage, and we could get price premiums. The other advantage to growing hops in Florida is that we found we can grow hops twice a year because of the warm climate, so that way we can maximize production in different production windows.”
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