By Will Rogers, group technical director, Charles Faram & Co Ltd

The lifeline of hospitality re-opening is now just around the corner in the UK (only Wales is left to give its date(s)). With that bit of brightness on the horizon, we’re getting more questions like: “What’s the new crop looking like so far?” Well, hop plants rapidly double in weight in August, so there’s still quite a lot that can change! Let’s look at global crops …

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Czech Republic

A mild winter, with little rain and a very small amount of snow, caused some concerns. Fortunately, just as thoughts were turning to spring, some colder weather and frosts came.

When spring arrived, it would be considered ‘normal’ if not for Covid-19, which has caused understandable labour shortages. To counter this, Czech hop growers started work in the hop fields two to three weeks early. All the field work was completed on time, but using local labour rather than Slovakian has pushed growers’ costs up.

April was very dry, with droughts in some areas — cereals crops look to be damaged. But May was the opposite, cool with heavy rain, which has persisted into June. This has caused some localised flooding. Water levels have recovered and soils are now in excellent condition. Conditions have, unfortunately, favoured Downy and Powdery mildews, however outbreaks are under control, as are aphid and spider mites.

Cooler weather in June has led to slower growth of plants, but this is being viewed positively by growers. So far there is nothing to be alarmed at.

Germany — Hallertau

A mild winter, with very few cold days. January and February temperatures were 4º C higher than the 30-year average, and higher-than-average temperatures continued into May, with lower rainfalls. All field work was carried out on time by students and local labour, after a campaign due to the lack of Eastern European workers.

June has been a little cooler than average, but fortunately they have had significant rainfall, and higher temperatures are forecast. Growth is slightly behind expectations, and there have been outbreaks of Powdery and Downy mildews, as well as aphids and spider mites. These have been controlled.

Germany — Tettnang

A mild, even hot winter was experienced, with temperatures well above average, which have been compensated for by plenty of rain. There has been significant humidity, which normally causes a problem with disease, but so far this are under control. Growth is strong, and the plants are ahead of where we would expect them to be. Additional rain is forecast.

Poland

A warm and dry winter was causing great concern to growers, who have experienced repeated droughts in recent years. During May, the weather became wet and warm, plants have caught up, and are looking good without too much stress.

Slovenia

Contrary to most of the other hop growing areas in Europe, Slovenia has had a mild spring, with temperatures closer to long-term averages than in recent years. It has been drier than growers would like, with some having to use irrigation much earlier than anticipated; however, good, consistent rainfall since mid-May has helped. Warm conditions and rain have meant high humidity in June (an English summer!) and plants are now ahead of expectations, reaching their top wires early. So far so good!

Disease wise, Powdery and Downy mildew are being kept under control, as are aphid and spider mites. There is still a potentially significant issue with Citrus Bark Cracking Viroid in Slovenia. After 2018, crop 85 hecatres was removed by growers because of this devastating viroid carried in the sap of the plant. Subsequent to the 2019 crop, 145ha were removed (a total of 230ha). Suspicious plants are being tested, with a positive result leading to removal of all plants within the surrounding area.

UK

We had a wet autumn in 2019, which meant field work and planting was almost impossible. Large amounts of rain and flooding in February 2020 added to this problem. The winter was mild, with very few frosts. The hops began to grow, but were checked by some cool temperatures at night. May had some very warm temperatures, and plants responded well to this, however we had a couple of late frosts and some high winds, and very little rain.

Coming into June, plants were slightly behind where we would expect, however we have had some good rain and we now have warmer weather. This will help the plants to catch up!

We have had some downy mildew issues early on, aphids have been a problem, and there have been some small amounts of powdery mildew. Overall, there’s less pressure on the crop than last year.

Contracting for British hops has been understandably slow, and many growers are very concerned about over-production. Most have taken the decision to reduce inputs and single-string plants (this could reduce the yield by up to 40%).

It’s incredibly important that we continue to support British growers, and we are encouraging brewers to buy British hops or risk losing our hop industry completely. Reduced food miles and supporting local industry should be important to all, and if it’s part of your brewery’s values we should be shouting about it!

USA (focusing on Washington, Idaho, and Oregon)

In all three states, spring has been cooler than normal — the forecast is for a hot and dry summer. Growers are pleased with the progress of plants, but concerned about potential forest fires, which have blighted crops in the past.

Field work was completed by mid-May. There are concerns about availability of labour, and Yakima County in particular is currently a hot spot for the Covid-19 virus.

There has been powdery mildew pressure in Washington and Oregon, but these outbreaks have been controlled. Pest pressures have been few so far. Idaho growers are working with cover crops, which are improving fertility, reducing soil erosion, and also creating a friendly environment for predatory species of aphid and red spider mite.

It’s expected that the plants which were babies in 2019 and underperformed will produce full yields in 2020, while the planned increase in acreage has been checked a little by Covid-19.

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