Updates about the Horticulture Wales project, along with industry news and opinion.

Hops Study Tour Review – Part One

22 July 2014

Horticulture Wales teamed up with Cywain to stage a study tour to explore the commercial opportunities offered by growing hops. The trip took in a visit to one of England’s largest hop producers along with a merchant that stocks the widest range of hops in the UK, giving the growers and farmers who joined us an excellent insight on how to tap into the booming craft beer industry…

Hops General Overview

Hop growing has been a feature of the British countryside since the 1520s, reaching peak production of nearly 30,000 hectares during the nineteenth century. The next hundred years resulted in a steady decline as the land dedicated to hops growing fell to just 2,361 hectares in 1999.  However, while the production area declined, yields remained comparably high due to improved pest and disease control, and the development of varieties resistant to wilt. 

The popularity of craft beer and micro-brewing has enjoyed something of a renaissance over recent years. There are now well over 1,000 microbreweries in the UK, the highest figure for more than 70 years, with the number of breweries in operation almost double that of a decade ago, leading to an increased demand for quality hops.

Currently in the UK, there are about 1,000 acres of land devoted to hops production spread across 50 farms, which accounts for approximately 1.6% of total world production. The main growing areas are still the traditional strongholds of Kent and Hereford, along with Surrey, Sussex and Essex.

As a comparison, Germany’s current global market share is about 35%, which is distributed between 1,000 growers, the majority of which operate small farms of 5-10 hectares. Hops production doesn’t tend to be their main source of income so these growers do push for high prices. The United States also enjoys a 35% market share, which is spread between about 50 larger farms – due to their sheer size, American growers can sometimes struggle to harvest the more aromatic varieties efficiently.

Hop varieties tend to be country-specific. There are 20 different varieties of hop currently grown in the UK, with upwards of 400 varieties held at the National Hop Collection in Kent, not including the many other trial varieties that are planted for evaluation. The UK is said to traditionally produce hops with a more complex aroma than those grown overseas, due to the maritime growing climate of even precipitation and even, cloudy skies – British hops have a reputation, particularly with craft brewers, for producing tastier beers.

It is actually anticipated that there will be a worldwide hop shortage within the next few years. The UK is said to have sufficient supply at the moment, but the popular variety Goldings is already sold out for 2014 and 2015. 

Stocks Farm

Based on the Herefordshire-Worcestershire border, Stocks Farm has been in operation for 300 years and covers 200 acres of land. Run by the Capper family for more than five decades, the farm currently produces 100 acres of hops – enough to brew nearly 50 million pints of beer – plus 100 acres of apples.

Rich 2 Wall of Gala (180px * 270px)Of its apple production, 60 acres is dedicated to desert fruit (e.g. Gala and Braeburn, plus a new variety of Red Windsor which will take about five to six years before it is in full production) destined for the supermarket, with the remaining 40 acres left for cider production as part of 30-year contracts with leading manufacturers Bulmers and Magners. The farm previously used to grow Bramley cooking apples too, but falling demand has seen this land re-planted with the new variety of Red Windsor.

To compare growing systems, the old Bramley orchards were grown at 11 metre centres, while the new ‘wall’ systems are grown at 0.8m centres in the row. It can cost upwards of £27,000 per hectare to establish a new orchard with all the necessary posts, wirework, and trees.


At Stocks Farm, nine different hop varieties are grown based on two different systems: a traditional 4-6 metre wirework system, plus a shorter, newer two metre wirework system with mechanical harvesting that was established around 20 years ago. With all the associated labour and equipment costs, plus the plants themselves, it can take around £25,000 to establish one hectare of new hop garden.

The plants at Stocks Farm are strung in spring from the pig’s tail to the wire using biodegradable twine imported from Sri Lanka. The hops emerge in March or April, depending on whether it is an early or late-year crop and will twine themselves. If it is windy in April and May, they may have to be re-done.

Rich 7 hop yard (180px * 270px)Rich 8 pigs tail (180px * 270px)Rich 5 new shoots (180px * 270px)

The bines should reach the top wire by the end of June – if it takes place any earlier than this, there is the risk that they will ‘hold hands’ at the top, reducing light levels to the lower part of the bines and the rest of the crop. In July, the laterals extend and the plant will spend about three weeks in burr (which looks like fluff), before a final three weeks in flower. Harvesting starts at the beginning of September and takes about five weeks.  It is vital that the harvest is managed carefully as hops can ‘go over’ and be ruined if delayed.

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