Behind the Brew: Organic Hops Production
Perrault Farms, Toppenish
July 27, 2015
Twenty-six farmers and agricultural professionals came together at Perrault Farms to learn about organic hops production. Located in the Yakima Valley, Perrault Farms is a family business and Jason Perrault, fourth generation hop farmer, along with his cousin Tim, led the walk. Jason shared that Washington, Idaho, and Oregon account for 100% of the U.S. hops production with the Yakima Valley accounting for 75% in itself. So it was wonderful to be on one of a few large-scale, organic hops productions in the state.
As they spoke about the management of organic hops, Jason and Tim led attendees through one of their organic hop yards where the hop vines were barely beginning to develop flowers. In total, Perrault Farms has 1500 acres in hops production, and 45 acres in certified organic hops. These hops are used mostly by craft brewers in Washington, Oregon, and in New York. The biggest challenge with growing organic hops is pest and disease management. The largest issues being aphids, mites, and powdery mildew. Management of nitrogen is also difficult in organic hops as these plants use up nitrogen very quickly during their growth phase. To get a quality product, nitrogen needs to be managed intensively which can be hard to do with organic products and methods such as cover crops and compost applications – two forms of fertility that Jason does employ. After about five years of being organic, Jason said he finally sees the ecosystem of his organic yards balance so that pest and disease issues became less dramatic. Jason is also active in breeding hops varieties that provide a high yield as well as resistance to pests and disease.
Jason has begun to adopt many of the organic practices within his conventional blocks as well. He will plant cover crops within his alleyways to build up soil health and provide habitat for beneficial insects. Whether organic or conventional, the Perrault hop yards are always being monitored for threats of disease and pest pressure. Jason has identified people in his crew to do pest counts and weekly as part of their Integrated Pest Management plan that tracks both populations of beneficial insects and pest insects.
The farm walk then included a tour of Perrault’s new processing facility which will see its first hops harvest this August and September. Attendees were even able to taste beer produced with Perrault hops in their tap room. Jason believes that now is the time to sell and grow organic hops, especially with the increased responsiveness to unique varieties and organically grown hops from the craft brewing industry.
Click here to view the farm walk booklet for Perrault Farms.
Summary by Angela Anegon
This Farm Walk is supported in part by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, Grant # 2012-49400-19575. For more resources and programs for beginning farmers and ranchers please visit www.Start2Farm.gov.