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Scientists evaluate hops growing on a trellis. Link to photo information
Raising hops on trellises about half the height of the 18-footers shown here might save growers as much as 30 percent on labor costs, according to tests by ARS geneticist John Henning (foreground) and Oregon State University research associate Shaun Townsend. Click the image for more information about it.

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Lower Hop Trellises for Higher Profits

By Laura McGinnis
January 10, 2008

When growers say "hop," John Henning asks, "How low?"

Henning is a plant geneticist in the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Forage Seed and Cereal Research Unit in Corvallis, Ore., where he and his colleagues are investigating a management technique that could save hops producers as much as 30 percent in labor costs. Oregon is one of the principal hop-producing states in the nation, second only to Washington.

The method involves raising the hops on low trellises—about 10 feet high, instead of the 18-foot trellises typically used in commercial production.

Lower trellises eliminate the need for two labor-intensive aspects of production: stringing, in which hop plants are connected to hooks on the trellis wires with strings; and training, in which the strongest shoots of each hop plant are wired to the trellis wires to encourage the vines to grow in clockwise spirals.

In addition, low trellis production allows for in-field harvest of hop cones, rather than the current labor-intensive practice of cutting down plants in the field and hauling them back to a stationary picker.

Using low-trellis production systems could have significant economic and environmental benefits. In addition to decreasing labor costs, the systems would enable growers to apply pesticides with directed or covered sprayers that lower the amount of pesticides required, reducing costs and the potential for pesticide drift.

However, not all hops are suited to low-trellis management. So Henning and his colleagues are working to identify the gene or genes responsible for shorter vine growth. This information will aid selection of hop varieties that respond well to low-trellis production systems. If successful, such varieties could save the hop industry a lot of money.

Read more about this research in the January 2008 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

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