SCOTTSBLUFF— Hop bines were tattered on Thursday morning. Around them, hop cones littered the ground.
“Now I know how growers feel,” said Gary Stone, an extension educator at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center.
Like windows and roofs in town, crops at the extension center sustained considerable damage following three recent hail storms. This was the third year that the hops have been severely damaged by weather, Stone said. In 2017 and 2018, high winds ripped cones off of their bines.
“I was hoping nothing would happen this year,” Stone said.
The hops are part of a research project that has been conducted by the University of Nebraska over the last four years. The project has been spearheaded by University of Nebraska—Lincoln Professor Stacy Adams. It was paid for by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture and Specialty Crop Block Grant project.
Stone said the goal of the hop project was to determine what varieties of the plant could be a viable secondary crop for farmers.
Eight different varieties of hop bines were set up on 12-foot trellises at five sites across the state. Each location had the same eight cultivars.
The plants were attached to the trellises using coconut fiber rope, called coir, Stone said.
“They grow clockwise,” he said, and they can grow six inches a day.
A drip irrigation system is used to water the plants.
Out of the eight, a few varieties of hops didn’t grow well in the Panhandle but the others seemed to thrive until the “great white combine” took them out.
Hop plants are perennial, meaning they grow back each year. In the spring, Stone and his team trimmed back the bines, which allows for better growth.
Cones are produced by the plant and harvested for their lupulin, a bitter-tasting yellow powder that is often used to flavor beer.
Brewers sometimes use fresh hops, although that’s not as common as using the plant in a pellet form. Large breweries sometimes use bails of the plant, Stone said.
While beer is the most common use for hops, that’s not all they are good for.
Stone said researchers are looking into cancer-fighting and microbial compounds in the plants. Additionally, hops can act as a sleep aid and can be beneficial to digestive health.