Hops: Growing for the Long Term Starts with Good Root Stock

Late in 2015, powdery mildew was found in a hops yard planted with modern varieties that were bred to be resistant to the disease. Steve Miller, supported by a Focus Grant from Farm Viability, sprang into action to help hops growers protect their investments.

This article was developed for the 2018 NYFVI annual report here. More information can be found at Pioneer Plant Tech.

Between 2010 and 2015 hop growers in New York had invested over $4.5 million dollars (not including buildings and machinery) to establish approximately 300 acres of hops. The discovery of a strain of powdery mildew not previously in New York was a significant event.

This new powdery mildew was found at a recently established hops yard that had imported rhizomes from out of state. Steve Miller, then with Madison County Cooperative Extension and now Northeast Hops Alliance (NEHA) Executive Director worked with the grower, the out of state propagator, NYS Department of Agriculture & Markets, the Geneva Plant Pathology Lab and the USDA Hop Plant Pathologist to confirm his theory that the rhizomes were contaminated and develop a plan of action.

Miller was determined to prevent further contaminated stock from entering the State. He increased his work with New York based greenhouse businesses to grow clean plants for the hops industry and began an extensive grower education program.

While greenhouse grown plants are more likely to be correctly identified and disease free, they are also approximately three times the cost of rhizomes. Despite the cost, more growers have begun to use plants, rather than rhizomes to start and replenish their hops yards.

An exciting outgrowth of this project is the creation of a new tissue culture propagation facility in central New York, Pioneer Plant-Tech. Danuta Knuth, the owner, built a state-of-the art lab and pest free greenhouse and is now producing top quality hop plants for the industry. This is a major competitive improvement for growers in New York as the plants are free of the primary diseases affecting hops, positioning growers with a clean start for their hopyards. 

“Funding from NYFVI made it possible for us to obtain the information we needed to develop our business. With your encouragement we established a tissue culture facility and bio-secure greenhouses. Steve Miller’s referrals to experts in IPM, extension agents, Cornell Plant Pathologists (especially Dr. Marc Fuchs at the Geneva Experimental Station) and the Clean Plant Network kept us on the right track in establishing a facility we are proud to offer as a source for clean hops plants in New York, the Northeast, and Canada.”

Danuta Knuth, Pioneer Plant-Tech

Pioneer Plant-Tech is also able to apply various processes to clean up plants that are virus contaminated, and is working to develop a service to do this for growers who are selecting new varieties from the wild gene pool. These selections represent a potential new group of hop flavors for brewers and disease resistant varieties for the hop growers, giving them a competitive advantage over the Pacific Northwest growers that they currently lack. 

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