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Hoppy Earth Day - Sustainability in Hop Farming

We all know and love hops as that magical plant that selflessly lends its delicious, aromatic power to the bubbly beverages which we imbue with them. Is there anything we can ever do to repay them for their generosity?!
Well, this Earth Day we strive to answer that very question, because as it turns out, hops have needs, too.
While hops are a resilient plant that can, to an extent, grow in most temperate climates, viable commercial hop production (i.e., the scale of production that Hoplark requires to make enough beverages for all of you lovely folks) requires relatively specific growing conditions. For ideal growth, hops require a minimum of 120 frost-free days per year, with exposure to direct sunlight for 6-8 hours per day and long day lengths of 15+ hours. Hops, being photosensitive, will not flower if day lengths are too short during the harvesting season. Also required is a damp spring, followed by a warm summer. As such, hops are ideally grown in certain regions falling between 35 and 55 degrees latitude, which include notable growing regions such as the Pacific Northwest, Germany, Australia and New Zealand.
All of these factors combined carry the implication that hop cultivation is particularly impacted by climate change. Hops can only withstand so much of a hot, arid climate before cones will wilt on their bines and hop cultivation becomes nonviable. However, it is not so straightforward to move hop agriculture to higher latitudes with cooler and damper conditions as the planet warms, since at those latitudes, hop plants will not receive sufficient exposure to sunlight and thus will not flower. All of that being said, if we want sustainable commercial hop production to continue into the foreseeable future, we should all be doing our part to mitigate climate change to the extent possible.
On the other hand, even in ideal growing conditions, there are many potential pressures that hop plants face, including disease (notably downy and powdery mildew, and verticillium wilt), pests (notably hop aphids and spider mites), and competition from weeds. Wouldn't it just be a darned shame if the measures that hop farmers are taking to mitigate these pressures and maintain ideal growing conditions are contributing to the climate change that would ultimately undermine hop agriculture as we know it? Fortunately, there are many sustainable farming practices being applied in hop fields all over the world to minimize the amount of herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides that are required to maintain healthy hop plants, as well as to minimize the amount of water and fuel required for hop growing and harvesting. 
Much of this work takes place during hop breeding, with traits such as disease and pest resistance being selected for early on in the breeding process. This drastically reduces the need for spraying pesticides and fungicides when growing such varietals. Another important and widespread sustainable hop farming practice is the application of cover crops. Since hops are seasonal, growing and mowing other crops (such as oats, barley, alfalfa, clover, fescue, and wheatgrass, to name a few) in the fields during the off season helps to improve soil health by reducing erosion and dust, and improving nutrient retention, reducing the need for applying synthetic fertilizers. This reduction in dust also interestingly reduces the need for spraying pesticides, as dust can actually shield pests from those pesticides, reducing their effectiveness and requiring heavier application. Cover crops also out-compete problematic weeds, which reduces the need for tilling and saves on CO2 emissions. Many farms also use manure and compost, including reintroducing hop plant material that doesn't make it to further stages of processing, as an alternative to nitrogenating the soil with synthetic fertilizers. Habitat manipulation in the form of introducing and maintaining populations of natural predators to pests that harm hops is another common practice that reduces the need to spray pesticides.
There are also several technologies that are becoming more and more commonplace that work to conserve resources. For example, a combination of drip irrigation lines and moisture probes allow farmers to precisely give hop plants just as much water as is ideal, resulting in significant savings on water resources.
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