From FCC Express by Owen Roberts
Ontario hops gained ground in 2014, and the outlook for this year is optimistic as well.
Acreage rose to 60 acres, about 10 to 15 acres more than 2013, says Evan Elford, new crop development specialist for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
That’s keeping with trends over the past five years that saw acreage grow by about 10 to 15 per cent a year, he says.
“We’re seeing existing growers expand their acreage, as well as new growers getting started.”
Growers are now about 34-strong, and are working together to advance their industry.
For example, for the first time, they held workshops in November and December to set research and service priorities for this year. These encompass plant genetics, pest management, production efficiencies, food safety and marketing, to name a few.
And they’re now releasing results from their 2014 hop cultivar evaluation research, conducted with the University of Guelph, OMAFRA and Loyalist College.
They’ve identified the highest-yielding hop varieties (Cascade, Galena, Zeus and Chinook), as well as those that stood up the best to pests such as Japanese beetle and potato leafhoppers, and to problems such as Alternaria cone disorder and downy mildew.
But it’s not all about yield. Over the years, Elford says growers have found quality is key. To that end, as a production technique, he’s advocating irrigation – hops need a lot of water, and while they received it in abundance naturally in 2014, quality and yields will suffer in a dry year without it.
Hops acreage in Ontario is miniscule compared to traditional cash crops. But as a niche crop, Ontario acreage is in step with the other major hops-producing provinces, such as B.C., the nation’s leader with 80 acres, and Quebec, with 70 acres.
It is suspected acreage and production will keep increasing, based on demand. Hops are a key ingredient in beer brewing. They’ve become of particular interest to brewers with the evolution of craft beer – which has realized skyrocketing sales – and local ingredients.
“Growers are selling everything they can produce, as long as it’s high quality,” says Elford. “They are positive about the industry.”
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