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  • Hop cultivation

Power from the root system

Humulus Lupulus

Volatility is increasingly becoming part of everyday business: For example, agriculture is struggling with changing weather conditions, water shortages, rising energy costs, threatened supply chains, and increasing political pressure manifested in a constant stream of new regulations. This applies to hop growing as much as it does to other agricultural sectors: The growers’ yield and income stability is at risk.

At the same time, the supply of hops to breweries throughout the world depends on the growers’ ability to deliver. We have reported on crop fluctuations in hop farming in recent years here. The many volatile variables are making it increasingly clear that the risks facing the growers cannot be compensated for by price increases. We are faced with structural problems that we can only solve together. 

The measures taken by the hop industry to stabilize hop supply include the breeding of new varieties that offer high yields with lower input, are more resilient against disease, have high tolerance to stress and drought, and exhibit good aroma and brewing qualities. Further measures for adapting the hop industry to climate change include the development of more resource-efficient irrigation methods and improving soil quality. Soil quality and the soil fertility associated with it are particularly important for attaining stable yields.  

Therefore, BarthHaas has been working with growers since 2017 to improve soil condition by means of new systems of cover crop cultivation. At several locations that have different soil types and hop varieties, a mixture of different clover varieties, sweet grasses, and legumes are planted in the spaces between the hop rows. The power comes from the roots of the various plants: Tap roots, mixed roots, deep roots and fine roots work to stabilize the structure of the soil and increase its water storage capacity.  

Over the course of the project, the decision was made in favor of perennial crops. They were considered to promote humus content and biological activity more effectively than previous cover crop cultivation systems. This is because the longer the vegetation period of the cover crops, the more intensively the root spread can develop. The cover crops also help to prevent wind and water erosion. In addition, they develop and conserve nutrients in deeper layers. Thus, the cover crops prevent nitrate leaching by storing nitrogen and returning it into the natural cycle via the dead plant parts.  

Together with the Bavarian State Institute for Agriculture, BarthHaas is examining the influence of perennial cover crops compared to that of annuals. Soil values such as dry bulk density, water storage capability, air capacity, organic carbon, and total nitrogen have been measured and compared. 

The data from this project variant reveal that the soil physical parameters show improved values in the deeper layers in particular. This also means that in the future irrigation measures will be able to work more efficiently. In general, it is hoped that the planting of cover crops can mitigate the effects of climate change and lead to more stable yields.  

This is only one example of what BarthHaas is doing to make the growing of the specialty crop hops fit for the future. Breweries can support this by working together with BarthHaas and the hop farmers, by acquainting themselves with sustainable hop varieties and growing methods and, in particular, by being open to new varieties. BarthHaas encourages breweries to gradually adapt their flagship beers and to reconsider the varieties they currently use and replace them with new ones. The BarthHaas Brewing Solutions team will be pleased to advise brewers in this endeavor.

An article by

Head of BarthHaas Campus

Dr. Christina Schönberger

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