Pre-Harvest Update / by Kathy Dunbar

Harvest is fast approaching and the plants are looking great!  Despite the abnormal weather, the hops are growing well and it looks like it’s going to be a great year.

It has been a strange season, challenging us to draw on all our experience, expertise, and creativity, to get the best crop possible.  The season started hot and dry in the spring, and continued this way right through mid-summer.  We were then hit by a series of tropical storms, and over the last month we've had heaps of rain.  The plants have responded to these conditions in different ways, with some absolutely thriving, and others fairing less well.  As expected, the first and second year plants did not enjoy the hot and dry conditions, but have done well and we are pleased with the way they are looking now.  One of the ways that we have responded to the unusual climatic conditions, is to optimize fertilizer timing prior to hot days to help give the plants a boost when they are going to be stressed (as happens on a hot day), and at other times applying a fish emulsion throughout the farm in addition to our regular fertilizer regime.

We're on track to have the hottest growing season, measured by growing degree days, in the last 25+ years.  In addition (see the graphs below), we were on track to have the driest season in the last 25+ years, however a pair of tropical cyclones getting pushed south suddenly put an end to that.  We expect these types of extreme weather events to be the new 'normal' of farming in an age of climate change.  This expectation is part of what drives our focus on systems and technology that allow us to monitor the crop more closely and adjust more quickly to what mother nature throws at us.  To consistently produce hops with the flavour and aroma we all expect will likely require a level of farming precision and speed that wasn't possible 10 years ago.  Luckily for us, solutions are rapidly catching up with the challenges we face.  We'll never be able to escape the risks of extreme weather damage from hail or wind, but we can be prepared for extreme seasons like this year or last year.

Last season we felt that we were just beginning to explore the effects of weather, erroir on the farm, and harvest timing, seeing some interesting results.  This season we are eager to further explore how these factors affect flavour and aroma.

Something new this season is our drone crop analysis program, which has helped us to begin staying on top of what is happening with the crop in real time.  The imagery this season has been really exciting, giving us a completely different perspective, and is already providing valuable data that we can act on right away.  We were immediately able to identify spots on the farm where irrigation was not working properly, something that previously would have been nearly impossible to figure out in a timely manner.  The photos below include some imagery from the drone (the lighter green circular patterns in this block were resolved by fixing the irrigation) as well as photos from around the farm so you can see how everything looks.

We are currently forecasting that we’ll start harvest in 2-3 weeks, depending on how the dry matter testing results come out and how the crop is smelling/tasting/looking.  It’s beautiful and sunny, with some rain coming in the week and we can’t wait to get started!

We've been very pleasantly astonished by how many folks are making the journey out to the farm for harvest this year and are truly excited about the opportunities for us to find new insights about the hops together.  We're very much looking forward to it.