By Shinsuke Agehara
Craft beer brewed with Florida hops sounds very attractive. But can hops be grown in Florida? Will the crop produce high yields? The most important question is: Will it be profitable?
There are lots of rumors, myths and hype about growing hops in the Sunshine State. That’s probably because hops have never been grown commercially in Florida and other subtropical regions — at least not on a large scale. There simply was not enough information. The profitability of Florida hops is still unknown, but a lot of information is now available from ongoing research conducted at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Gulf Coast Research and Education Center (GCREC).
In 2016, a 1-acre hop yard with a trellis 19 feet high was built. In the first two years, yields were very low. The main reason was premature flowering that limited the vegetative growth. At that time, many plants grew only halfway up the trellis. This happened because the daylength in Florida is not long enough for hops. In general, the critical daylength for hops is 15 to 16 hours. Hops promote vegetative growth when daylength is above this threshold, and plants start flowering when daylength drops below this threshold. The optimal shift from vegetative to reproductive development is key to maximizing hop yields.
UF/IFAS researchers experienced lots of trial and error. In 2018, LED lights were installed in the hop yard. The daylight extension with LED lights was effective in controlling the timing of flowering. In other words, it can trick hop plants into thinking they are in the Pacific Northwest.
All trials were reestablished using tissue-cultured seedlings. Researchers have tested more than 20 varieties and various crop management practices, including fertilization, irrigation, plant spacing and pruning. The hop yard is also being monitored to identify pest issues, including diseases, insects and nematodes.
TRELLIS TRIALS AND HIGH YIELDS
Research continued in 2019, with another 1-acre hop yard built to test different trellis designs and heights. The straight trellis has only one cable per row, which is for installing both LED lights and twines. By contrast, the V-trellis has three cables per row: the middle cable is used to hang LED lights, and the other two are used to install twines. The most notable difference is that the straight trellis can have only two twines per hill, whereas the V-trellis can have four twines per hill.
In the spring of 2020, researchers started a new trial to evaluate the two trellis designs with three different heights: 12, 15 and 18 feet. A record high yield was achieved. Cascade hops grown on the 18-foot V-trellis produced 1,130 pounds of dry hops per acre, which is more than 60 percent of the commercial average yield of this variety. Alpha acid of these hops, which is an important quality attribute for bitterness of beer, was at the commercial level or even slightly higher.
It’s important to note that 1,130 pounds per acre is just the first season yield. It normally takes a few years before hop plants can reach the full yield potential, so the yield is expected to go up over time. Furthermore, Florida can produce two crops a year because of the warm climate, whereas other production regions, including the Pacific Northwest, can harvest hops only once a year. Within the next few years, researchers will know if Florida can achieve above-average yields!
In the meantime, the economics of this new crop need to be investigated. The total material cost for the GCREC hop yard establishment was $15,780 per acre for the straight trellis and $18,687 per acre for the V-trellis. Labor and crop management cost information is now being collected. Budget analysis is expected soon and will determine the breakeven price and yield for each trellis design.
DEVELOPING A VIABLE INDUSTRY
In 2019, Florida ranked fourth in the nation for craft beer production, with 329 breweries producing 42.6 million gallons of beer and generating an economic impact of more than $3 billion. The UF/IFAS hops research goal is to develop a viable industry for Florida growers and brewers.
Florida’s hop industry is just forming. There are several growers producing and selling hops to local craft brewers, and the production is expanding. More than 15 craft breweries in Florida have brewed beer using Florida hops.
The viability of this new crop in Florida is still unknown. The hope is that research information can support the development of the new industry and help local brewers make more beer with locally grown hops. The latest hops research updates are available at www.facebook.com/GCREC.Hops.
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