As hop growers the world over know, a successful harvest demands a delicate balancing act. With hop cones containing close to 84 percent moisture at harvest, growers have a narrow window in which they must reduce moisture down to ten percent, while conditioning the crop to ensure each part of the cone dries evenly.

To further complicate matters, both drying and conditioning must adhere to prescribed limits of temperature, air humidity, air speed and time, and account for variables such as environmental factors, conditions of the crop at harvest, and varietal differences. And as many growers have had the frustration of discovering, both under-drying and over-drying will compromise the quality of the hops and their storage life.

Fortunately there is a new solution at hand for BC hop growers, thanks to a project by Vice Design to develop a sensor-monitored drying and conditioning unit for farms between five and 100 acres (which accounts for nearly all hop operations in BC).

Raymond Bredenhof, Chair of the BC Hop Growers Association (BCHGA), is among many who have been seeking an improved alternative for small-scale producers. While commercially available models already existed, Raymond insists they missed the mark in serving the needs of the BC industry.

“Previous methods either involved building modular equipment on-site, purchasing a small commercial modular system or buying a large commercial option, with each of these methods entailing their own setbacks and complications,” he describes.

Larger commercial units, for instance, not only constitute a major capital investment, they also require intensive infrastructures and do not accommodate hop farms under 50 acres. And because most companies are based in the United States or Germany, they can provide only limited support—a significant drawback considering the intense and timely nature of hop farming.

“Once ripe, the hop harvest window is approximately two to three weeks,” explains Raymond, “so time spent waiting for a part or technical support is revenue lost through wasted product.”

According to Vice Design president, James Boileau, BC producers now have access to local support and affordable technology that will consistently produce high quality hops in good time.

“There are specific standards in dried hops required by many breweries in order to create quality beer, making it essential that hop producers have a reliable method of drying and conditioning their product,” says James, who anticipates the unit will provide a 20 percent revenue boost based on spoilage reduction and enhanced quality.

For Raymond and others in the BCHGA, the new machinery is especially advantageous to new entrants to the industry.

“One of the most difficult and daunting tasks to a new farmer in the hop industry is sourcing equipment,” he emphasizes. “Reducing this impairment can only help increase the opportunity for success in the burgeoning industry of hop production.”

During a recent open house to showcase the device, many small- to medium-scale hops producers were similarly impressed, especially with the ability to custom modify the unit to suit producer output.

“Many hops farmers have expressed interest in our machine,” James reports hopefully. “Time will tell if our solution becomes widely adopted or not.”

Funding: $74,591 committed through the federal-provincial Agri-Food Futures Fund. (AF014-A151)