Tag Archives: old dominion hops coop

Meet Piedmont Hops in their Fourth Season

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Piedmont Hops is run by business partners David Goode and Steve Brown. Our 2013 story tracked Piedmont Hops in its second season and we followed its third harvest with another story in 2014. Click on those stories to learn more about David and Steve’s background and their experiences building a role a new industry.

All of the photos for this story were provided by Steve’s wife, Kathryn Brown.

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When David Goode and Steve Brown began growing hops, it was just a hobby, but by 2012 they found themselves growing commercially to meet the needs of the rapidly-growing Virginia craft beer industry. Today, the business consists of 800 plants grown at Piedmont Hops’ two sites in Chesterfield County, Virginia and North Carolina. David and Steve are active in the industry on several fronts and both serve as generous sources of knowledge and experience to fellow growers.

We are fortunate to be able to track this operation into its fourth year. We recently met with David Goode to discuss this year’s progress at Piedmont Hops.

How is the 2015 season going?
So far so good. We have a crop that is all over the place. Our 2014 expansion is not quite acclimated just yet due to our young plants. Our oldest yard is looking great. Next season we expect a more uniform harvest between both VA yards.

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Tell us about the varieties you are growing. Did you add any new ones this year?
Currently we are growing Cascade, Chinook and Nugget in NC and VA. Last season we added CTZ in Virginia. Midnight Brewery asked us to grow some Mt. Hood. They look good, so we shall see. We grow more Cascade than any variety. We have a few others we are trying out, but not ready to let the cat out the bag quite yet.

It seems like many of our Virginia growers produce at least several varieties to diversify their offerings, but everyone has a favorite. What’s yours?
Chinook by far. The leaves are huge and very dark green. Even the leaf stems smell of hops when we strip them. You get a nice lupulin tease early in the season before the bines even have cones. The cones are the most fragrant of what we grow. Our Chinook have a nice grapefruit aroma. We have one customer in particular that requests as much Chinook as possible. The guys from Stone Brewing loved the aroma from our Chinook.

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Are you trying anything new in 2015?
We completely tore down our 2013 fall trellis and expanded. A grid trellis that uses more spacing and less poles was constructed. The plan is to cut these bines down and take them to Huguenot Hops for processing. Our original yard still lowers for hand picking. We have not changed any marketing techniques. We still make phone calls and send emails to our customers as usual. This spring, we added one variety that we hope will do well and a handful of crowns to trial. Five very healthy wild hops plants we germinated from seed are doing great. We are hoping at least one is a female for cone production. We have two brewers already anxious to brew with them as a test in 2016.

After three years in this business, what is the biggest challenge that you have encountered along the way?
We started in 2012, so this will be our fourth season. Our biggest challenge has been fighting hops downy mildew. However, we have some solid extension agents who have coached us along the way. At one point we wanted to completely dig up a section of yard. Today, that section shows no signs of DM and is fully loaded with cones. We are happy we have such wonderful agents within driving distance of our yard in Virginia.

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Each hop cone, or female flower, prepares for a career in beer by progressing from a burr (top image) to a cone (bottom image).

Interest in the industry has grown steadily in the past few years and as a result we have seen many people join the Old Dominion Hops Cooperative. You have been an active member of this grower group for several years now. What is your outlook on ODHC and the changes you have seen as interest in hops has grown?
I love the folks within the Old Dominion Hops Cooperative. It has changed drastically since my first meeting in an old barn. We now have large meetings with video and conference call-ins, a new logo, and a solid team of folks leading various departments. We are a rapidly growing growers organization. The ODHC represents many states along the east coast. I would encourage anyone growing hops in the Southeast to consider joining the ODHC. Devon Kistler, our chairman, has done a wonderful job expanding the functionality of the cooperative.

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You have a strong online presence, particularly on social media. Tell us more about how you use this kind of outreach.
We use social media all the time. We love sharing our passion with folks. Whether they are craft beer drinkers, home brewers, family, friends, breweries and brewery owners, we love to show everyone what we are up to. Social media is a great way for folks to actually meet the farmer and see the farm without having to visit. I always tell folks, check out our social accounts for more info on who we are. Your social presence ultimately represents who you are. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Vimeo.

Do you have any advice for others who are interested in growing hops?
My advice is to start small and expand small. Visit and volunteer at other hops farms if possible. Learn as much by doing online research. NC State has a lot of good research. Start with quality rhizomes or Virus Free plant material. There are many great vendors out there and many not so great. Know your plant growers. We made some mistakes and bought poor quality material. It came back to bite us. Start with some Cascade if not all Cascade. Not only does it sell, but it grows well and will give you an idea of how this crop grows. You will set yourself up for success in year one. Then expand with others. There is so much advice I could be giving right now. This is one of the most difficult crops to grow. Lastly, please do not buy into the hype of hops being a cash crop. It is not.

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Do you have any successes you would like to share from this season?
Piedmont Hops has grown quite a bit over the years. In 2012 we started with about 70 or 80 plants. We now have over 800. The bulk of the crop is grown in Virginia, but we will be expanding a bit in North Carolina this fall. Between the two farms, we should have over 1,000 crowns. Steve represents the North Carolina growers within the ODHC. I have taken a volunteer spot within the Hops Growers of America. There is a small growers section developed and we will be collecting national data. I have been chosen to represent our region, mainly North Carolina and Virginia.

Your hops are showing up in local beers—would you like to share where some of them might be headed this year?
Our hops will show up locally in the RVA IPA by Hardywood Park Craft Brewery. This will be our third year working with them. Many of our hops are picked and delivered to North Carolina for fresh hopped ales. Our Nugget is heading way down south to Florida. From the several farm tours we have done and hops we have delivered, our customers and future customers love our product. With repeat customers in Virginia and North Carolina over the last three seasons, that is a great testament to the quality of our cones.

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Additional Resources for Readers:

Piedmont Hops website and Facebook page

Old Dominion Hops Cooperative

Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Hops Page

North Carolina Hops Project

Meet Huguenot Hops (Again)

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Last year, we posted a story about Huguenot Hops in Chesterfield County, run by business partners Devon Kistler and Kurt Stanfield. Click on the original story here to read about the background of this operation and learn more about how hops are grown.

IMG_1346 (683x1024)Virginia may not top the charts as a hops-producing state, but a rising number of growers have kick-started a movement to increase the availability of locally-grown hops to the burgeoning craft beer industry. Huguenot Hops is a trailblazer in this effort, expanding in size this spring to become one of the largest hop yards in the region. With the increased acreage comes more trellises to build, more bines to train, more weeds to control, and more cones to pick, but Devon and Kurt are committed to their work and passionate about quality.

We visited the operation recently to see the yard expansion and compare the upcoming harvest to what we saw in 2013.

How much has your operation expanded since we first visited you in 2013?
Last year we had 70 plants. This year we have 1200 plants on 1.25 acres. Our plan is to expand to 2600 plants on 3 acres in the next couple of years.

Which varieties of hops are you growing?
Last year was just Cascade. This year we added Nugget and Zeus. We plan to add more varieties in 2015.

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How is the 2014 hops season going so far?
Because of the weather, the second year plants were ready for harvest a month earlier than we expected. However, we were able to sell the hops to Alewerks. Also, we have learned how to combat Japanese Beetles and two-spotted spider mites.

Did you learn anything from 2013 that motivated you to make changes going into this 2014 season?
Yes! We have a completely new trellis system and automated drip irrigation system. Also, there are fewer rows in between poles. One of the more significant improvements was running liquid fertilizer through the drip irrigation … fertigation rocks!

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IMG_1339 (1024x683)Any there any new practices you are trying in 2014?
We did hops testing last year and are continuing that practice this year. Same with soil testing. Although we had soil testing completed by another entity we also had some done at VT. As I said before, fertigation rocks! We still need to better understand quantities to put down.

What is your outlook on your grower organization, Old Dominion Hops Cooperative, and the Virginia industry as a whole?
The Co-Op is gaining a lot of participation from new farmers and combining forces with hop growers in North Carolina. We expect there will be more changes in the Co-Op in the next year as new leadership is elected and groups are created to support specific functions of the Co-Op. I think brewers are a lot more aware of Virginia-grown hops than they were a year ago and they are willing to come out to farms and eventually buy local hops. However, the door is not going to open a lot more for sales of local hops until we have the ability to pelletize and professionally package hops at a location that is central to the majority of hop growers.

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Devon Kistler holds a rhizome he pulled up from one of his plants. Left to their own devices, hops spread through the underground growth of rhizomes, and some industry suppliers collect and sell high-quality rhizomes that can be used to start a new yard or add more plants to an existing one.

What has been your biggest challenge so far in this business?
Time spent weeding 1.25 acres. However, Kurt has a new system with a flamethrower and weed eater that could be our golden ticket.

Do you have any successes you’d like to share?
With some help from David at Piedmont Hops we have clippings from this spring that are currently 10 feet tall and producing burrs. This really helps expand the yard and helps keep costs down. Also, the early sale of 50 pounds to Alewerks is a pretty nice success.

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This burr will mature into a cone, the flower of the female hop plant that is used to flavor beer.


IMG_1328 (1024x683)In addition to working with Alewerks and Hardywood, Devon and Kurt have literally brought their hops to the table, providing early-spring shoots from their plants to The Tobacco Company Restaurant in Richmond for a dish made with espresso-rubbed veal and allagash white ale cream. Furthermore, Huguenot Hops was recently featured in “The Beer Guy” column in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Devon and Kurt will also make an appearance in an upcoming documentary about the brewing industry, From Grain to Growler, alongside several fellow growers.

IMG_1320 (683x1024)Huguenot Hops utilizes the support and resources offered by Virginia Cooperative Extension and their county agricultural agent in Chesterfield, Mike Likins. Although North Carolina State University is the regional leader in hops research, Extension resources for Virginia hops growers are expanding. The soil testing lab at Virginia Tech now has a crop code for hops so that growers can get accurate fertilizer recommendations for their yards, and the university has also initiated a hops testing service that will facilitate hop marketing and inform brewers about the levels of alpha acids and other compounds in their purchased hop cones. Virginia Cooperative Extension’s county agricultural agents work with Kurt, Devon, and other growers around the state with insect and disease identification, pest control recommendations, and crop management recommendations.

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Additional Resource for Readers:
Huguenot Hops Webpage
Huguenot Hops Facebook page
Old Dominion Hops Cooperative
North Carolina Hops Project
The Beer Guy article in the Times-Dispatch about Virginia hops
From Grain to Growler Documentary
Virginia Cooperative Extension – Chesterfield County (find your local office and agents here)

Meet Huguenot Hops.

100_0899 (1024x768)The Midlothian yard is owned and operated by Kurt Stanfield and his business partner Devon Kistler. 2013 was their first year growing hops as a commercial venture, but the results have been good and they have begun to increase the size of the yard and set up new plots for the upcoming season. Kurt and Devon work alongside fellow growers in the state and members of the Old Dominion Hops Cooperative who enjoy swapping ideas, networking with brewers, and helping one another at harvest time.  

100_0903 (1024x768)This year, Huguenot Hops grew the Cascade variety, which appeared to make it through the wet, humid summer unscathed by problems like downy mildew that can sometimes haunt hops in Virginia and North Carolina. Perhaps that is due in part to the yard’s unique trellis design. Rather than training the hops to grow in parallel vertical lines, Kurt and Devon arranged them in an open V-shape and spaced them to allow for plenty of airflow. They train each bine to grow clockwise up the twine towards the top of the trellis. However, they are still perfecting their support system design and have plans to make some adjustments to the cables and poles in the new plots that will be used to grow the Nugget and Zeus varieties next year.

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Kurt and Devon are planning to take soil tests on the existing yard and the new ground so that they can amend the soil pH and nutrient levels accordingly. Like any crop, hops need sufficient levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to remain productive. The yard is also working on perfecting their weed control system using ground covers like mulch and cloth. In addition to suppressing weeds, covers like mulch help the soil retain its moisture. Moisture control is critical in hops, and during most summers the plants require irrigation to supplement rainfall.

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Hops growers can start yards with rhizomes, cuttings, and field-ready plants from other growers. The hops grow each year out of the crown at the soil level. In order to ensure that only the best bines grow up on the trellis, Kurt and Devon cut the regrowth several times early in the season. This helps remove any shoots that may carry certain diseases and eliminates any possible “bull shoots,” or shoots that are not ultimately productive.

100_0908 - Copy (1024x768)Kurt and Devon hope to harvest one and a half to two pounds of hops per year from each plant that has been growing for two or three years. Because hand-harvest of a sizeable yard requires ladders, lots of time, and a small army of volunteers, they are considering the possibility of turning to a mechanical harvester that strips the cones off the bines. What else does the future hold for Huguenot Hops? Some new practices and improved trellises seem to be in the cards, and if all goes well, plenty of local hops will make their way into Virginia brews in the coming years.

100_0906 (1024x768)Additional Resources for Readers:

North Carolina Hops Project

Huguenot Hops Webpage

Old Dominion Hops Cooperative Webpage