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Mildew-Resistant Hops May Be Adopted by Brewing Industry

By David Elstein
September 12, 2002

The production of beer depends on the continued stable supply of an agricultural commodity--hops. Agricultural Research Service geneticist John Henning is working to ensure that an emerging disease in hop production areas doesn't threaten the crop.

Henning works for the ARS Forage Seed and Cereal Research Center in Corvallis, Ore., where he studies diseases that affect hops. In 1997, the newly invasive disease, powdery mildew, wiped out 10,000 of the 48,000 acres of hops in the United States. Prior to the accidental introduction of this disease, farmers were already spending considerable amounts to control downy mildew. During the following few years, growers spent an additional $300 an acre on fungicides to keep both mildews under control. Something else had to be done.

In February 2002, Henning released "Newport"--the only bittering hop that has a high level of genetic resistance to the two mildew strains. This new variety reduces the cost of hop production and the amount of fungicides used in hop production because the fungus is not able to infest resistant plants.

Newport produces large yields and is considered "grower friendly." One major brewery is conducting large-scale pilot brewing trials of the germplasm, while another large brewery has requested samples to start its own tests, so it may be used commercially.

The beer industry makes extensive use of hop varieties developed by ARS geneticists, including two others released by Henning--"Horizon" is used fairly extensively, and "Sterling" is used to a lesser extent. At least one-third of the hops in American beers have ARS origins, and some foreign beers also contain ARS hops.

All beer contains two types of hops. The bittering hop is used to make the beer more bitter. The aroma hop is used for flavoring.

More information about this research can be found in Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.

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