Although the unseasonably cold and wet weather in April and May generally resulted in slower hop growth than expected for this time of the year, several weeks of warm weather in June have thankfully started to turn this trend around.
The retained moisture in the soil and the warming of temperatures have combined to create optimum growing conditions in recent weeks. Plants have really responded well to this with many now reaching the top of our wirework, particularly at our Newnham site in Worcestershire. This has allowed several varieties to make up for the lack of growth in April and May. Fuggle and Target have bounced back quickly, although Bramling Cross (which is always notoriously difficult to grow!) and Cobb’s Goldings still have quite a lot of catching up to do.
The advantage of having much colder weather than expected does mean that the development of pests and disease has also been held back. However, there is still a long way to go before harvest, so we are always being vigilant. Our agronomist is regularly walking the hop yards, and scouting crops with our drone tech to get both a detailed, and a birds-eye view of growing conditions as it doesn’t take long for problems to take hold once fresh plant growth starts and the weather gets warmer.
As we move through June and pass the longest day of the year we can expect the hours of daylight to begin to decrease. Unlike most plants, hops are photosensitive – when they sense that days are shortening, they produce hormones which make the plant shift from vegetative growth to concentrating on flowering. Interestingly this means that harvest dates are relatively fixed year-on-year. Most arable (or broadacre) crops ripen when they have had sufficient heat (or growing degree days)- and so a cold period will delay harvest. Hops on the other hand will ripen predictably, but yields can be influenced by temperatures. The largest hop growing regions in the world (northern Bavaria, and the Pacific North-West) have warmer summers than the UK – it is possible that the cold spring will depress yields, but generally it is too early to predict how if this will affect final yields as the effect of weather on hop plants is more subtle. We remain, as ever, optimistic, and hopeful!
This chart shows average temperatures in the UK Midlands (the largest hop growing region) over the last few years:
The deviation shown in 2021 is clear – April and May were 2.9 and 2.3 ֯C respectively cooler than the 5 year average. Night time temperatures during May were especially cold. It seems for now that we’re getting back on track, but we have to be ready for anything with the British weather.
Farming is an unpredictable industry. The weather is one of the key determinants of yield and crop quality – and it is a variable which farmers have no control over. From a hop growers perspective hail is perhaps the biggest enemy (see the devastating storms which have occurred in the Hallertau, and which hit coast NZ farmers last Christmas).
The German general von Moltke once wrote that the best laid plans never survive first contact with the enemy. Mike Tyson put it better: ‘everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face’.
Hopefully, conditions will continue to improve, and we will get a good healthy crop rather than any more unpleasant shocks in 2021!