Maturing South Atlantic Hop Industry is Topic for March Conference

Luping Qu stands beside a hops trellis.

Dr. Luping Qu is breeding new hop varieties at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research Station in Mills River, N.C.

When it comes to producing hops, an important beer ingredient, the South Atlantic is maturing – so much so that an annual conference focused on the industry will be much more “homegrown” than it has ever been, featuring growers and researchers from North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee.

Organizers expect about 150 people for the South Atlantic Hops Conference, which is set for March 24-25 at the Crowne Plaza Resort in Asheville, N.C. The event is designed for growers, brewers and others interested in the hops industry.

Three universities – NC State, Virginia Tech and Virginia State – are organizing the event with the help of four regional hop growers and a malt maker.

Participants will have a chance to tour local hop yards, breweries and related businesses and take part in a trade show and conference sessions with information geared to beginning and experienced growers.

Topics include brewers’ opinions of local hops, regional research results, hop cone chemistry, up-and-coming varieties and experiences with hop harvesters.

Dr. Jeanine Davis, an NC State associate professor and Extension specialist in horticultural science, explained that all the conference speakers will be from the South Atlantic region. That means they understand and have experienced the unique challenges that the region’s climate presents, she said.

“In previous years, we brought in experts from the Pacific Northwest and other northern states where they have more experience growing hops,” Davis said. “But we now have growers and researchers who have been working with hops for six, eight and more years – long enough to tell you which varieties grow well here and what challenges you’ll face.”

Davis, the conference coordinator, has been conducting research and Extension programs on hops since the mid-2000s. In 2011, she and her colleagues at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research Station in Mills River established a hop yard where they’ve been testing varieties to see which ones grow well in North Carolina’s mountains.

Another NC State researcher, Dr. Luping Qu, is also using the yard to develop varieties especially suited to the region, where the shorter summer day lengths tend to reduce hop yields.

“Producing hops here is not the same as producing hops in other parts of the country, and so we encourage our growers to be cautious,” Davis said. “But there are a number of promising things in the works in the region that this conference will highlight.”

Conference sponsors include Old Dominion Hops Cooperative, Farm Credit, Catawba Brewing Co., HopsHarvester and the Lupulin Exchange. For more information and tickets, see http://go.ncsu.edu/SoAtlanticHops. Dec. 31 is the deadline for early bird registration.

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