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Retrofitting hops harvester may provide solution for Ontario growers

Hops growing gains momentum across the province

By Better Farming on September 16, 2013

Untitled Photo credit: Joe Callahan

In the burgeoning hops harvesting business in Ontario, one Ontario grower may be planting the seeds for the future by importing and retrofitting old German hops harvesting technology.

wolfpicker Photo credit: Joe Callahan (contributed image)

In August, Nicholas Schaut, president of the Ontario Hops Growers Association, demonstrated his recently acquired 1977 Wolf hops harvester for hops growers in the province at his operation near Meaford, Ontario.

Schaut imported and had his harvester retrofitted for about $52,000.00. This compares to the minimum half-million dollars Schaut says new harvesters cost.

In the labour intensive hop harvesting process, Schaut says it takes an hour to an hour and a half to hand pick the hops from a mature plant. Since an acre of hops consists of 1,000 plants, it’s economically impractical to hand pick locally grown hops if you’re a craft brewer, he notes.

Schaut estimates that in order to recover his investment, he will need to grow his 4.5-acre hops crop to 10 acres. With machine harvesting, the process becomes economically viable. He plans to use his Wolf harvester for his own crop and make it available for other growers within a two-hour drive of his operation.

Brewer Photo credit: Hohn Graham

Northumberland County brewer and restaurant owner John Graham from Churchkey Brewing near Campbellford turned his hand to growing hops this season and he sees developing an Ontario hop industry as not only viable but highly preferable. He says that currently he has no choice but to import hops in pellet form and he currently gets them from the state of Washington.

“We try to keep all of our produce Canadian, . . . as Trent Hills as we can,” says Graham. “In our restaurant the only cheese we have is from Empire (cheese factory), and the meat we have is from three local suppliers.”

Meanwhile, in Prince Edward County, Barley Days Brewery will bottle up to 30,000 bottles of India Pale Ale beer this fall from handpicked hops supplied by Wind Dance Farms on Big Island in the county. Alex Nichols, brewer at Barley Days Brewery, says that he is brewing four times as much beer this year from fresh locally grown hops compared to last year because the beer is very popular.

“I like to support the local farmers,” says Nichols. “It’s good for us and it’s good for them.”

Schaut says hop growers in Ontario don’t need more feasibility studies. He’s convinced that craft brewing will follow a similar development pattern to that of the wine industry.

“The viability of the crop is there. It’s just a matter of how well can it be done,” says Schaut. BF

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