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Hope For Hops After Hail: Addison Farmer's Hops Damaged By Recent Storm

The day after Memorial Day a big storm hit Addison and Rutland County, raining down large hailand briefly touching off a tornado warning.

Kris Anderson returned home later to his farm in Addison to find a sight that sank his spirits and would positively make beer lovers, especially those who appreciate a fine IPA, weep openly. The storm had destroyed the 4,000 hops bines at his Addison Hop Farm.

Hops are very vulnerable to hail. It’s a perennial vine, but unlike a grape vine where the wood stem would stay up year round, the plant has a crown underground with a 20 year life-span. It sets off shoots that grow up 15-20 feet every year, called bines.

“Right now the bines are slowly growing up a line which we put from the top wire down to the ground, are still pretty fragile, because they’re still pretty small. They’ve only been growing about a month, so wind trauma can break them, but unfortunately, the hail did quite an effective job on them,” Anderson said. “I was hoping that some near trees would have made it, but no. I’ve so far found six out of 4,000 which I’ve trained that didn’t get the apical end of the stem, which is where it’s growing from, knocked off.”

"In the end, this is basically an invasive weed, technically. They are already starting to put up new healthy looking shoots from the ground level." - Kris Anderson, Addison Hop Farm

Anderson says the bines that were up and trained on the line will stop growing where they are. “Once the head is knocked off, it pretty much stops.” Growers in Colorado have told him those bines may still grow hops, but fewer than he had planned on. But there’s still hope.

“In the end, this is basically an invasive weed, technically. They are already starting to put up new healthy looking shoots from the ground level. So the issue isn’t the plant dying, the issue is more that it still has to grow 15-20 feet in the air,” And it’s not clear how high they will be able to grow. “The higher up the plant is, the more hops are going to be on it. I think I’ll still get a pretty good yield this year,” Anderson said.

He had doubled the production acreage of two varieties, and was hoping to have a larger production this year than last, but now he’s hoping to have production equal to last year.

Hops from Addison Hop Farm are used by Bobcat Café & Brewery in Bristol, Peak Organic in Maine, Seven Barrel Brewery in New Hampshire, and Citizen Cider in Burlington.

Anderson is a doctor. He grew up in an agricultural community in Ohio. When he moved to Addison, he wanted to do something with the agricultural land.

"You can spray for insects and for fungus and that kind of thing. But you can't do anything about hail."

“I was just thinking, what’s a product I use? And I can only eat so much broccoli, but here’s a project I use. It’s really been a lot of fun because it’s a very interesting, niche product there’s nothing really like it around here,” Anderson said.

Addison Hop Farm is around 5 years old, but is still one of the oldest in the state. It’s just six months younger than the UVM test farm in Alburgh.

“It was very interesting when I was putting up the hop yard, because people would slow down in the road and look because they couldn’t figure out what the giant poles and high tension wires were for,” Anderson said.

UVM Extension has visited to see the damage and document it, as hail is one of the biggest risks for hops, and the number of farmers growing it is increasing.

“You can spray for insects and for fungus and that kind of thing. But you can’t do anything about hail. There is no prevention, but no one around here has had any kind of significant damage so far,” Anderson said. But he’s still optimistic, even though he’ll have fewer hops than he’d hoped. “Next year, we’ll have a whole lot and it will just be another growing season.”

Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.
A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
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