By Clint Thompson
Hops research at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is still in its infancy, but progress has been made. In fact, the main hurdle for hops to become a sustainably viable crop is for investment into a processing facility, says Shinsuke Agehara, UF/IFAS assistant professor of horticulture.
“Even if we find a way to grow hops and produce high yields, I think the main hurdle is to invest money to build a processing facility. Hops is not like a vegetable we can harvest and sell. After we harvest, we have to dry them,” Agehara said.
“I think when we find out that hops can grow, the main challenge will be to find a grower who is willing to invest in building the facility.”
He said local breweries have conveyed their desire for something unique; hops that can add unique aroma profiles to the beer. The development of new Florida varieties with unique quality profiles is UF’s long-term goal, says Agehara.
Hops research has come a long way during Agehara’s time researching at the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center. He has had to utilize supplemental lighting to control flowering.
“Before that, the main problem was we didn’t have sufficient daylight hours and the plants always flowered at an immature stage. They couldn’t be productive. Now, we can control the timing of flowering. We use supplemental lighting until plants produce enough biomass so they can produce more flowers,” Agehara said. “Yields have improved quite a bit. That solved many problems.”
But lighting may need to be modified for each season to obtain the best yields possible. Right now, production is not as consistent as the spring.
“I think now we have to focus on optimizing crop management in each season, because in each season, growing conditions are different. We are trying to find out what would be the best, for example, irrigation and fertilization management. That’s something we have to work on,” Agehara said. “The other thing I’m looking at is improving the cone quality in the fall season.”