Virginia Tech goes full steam ahead with hops research

Hop flowersWith more than 100 craft breweries, Virginia is quickly emerging as a significant player in the East Coast beer scene. Membership in the Old Dominion Hops Cooperative has grown from about 20 members to more than 80 over the past two years.

The burgeoning craft beer industry supports more than 8,000 jobs in the commonwealth and has a $623 million economic impact on the state, according to the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild.

And Virginia Tech is helping the commonwealth dive into the suds business. The university is currently conducting two studies — one examines the fermentation of hops, and the other studies the crop itself.

Holly Scoggins, associate professor of horticulture, is leading the research on the crop. She will head up the experimental hops yard that will be planted this fall with $8,900 in grant funding from the Virginia Agricultural Council. Scoggins is hoping to determine which hop varieties are best-suited to Virginia’s shorter summer days and most resistant to Mid-Atlantic pests.

“I’m excited,” said Scoggins. “There is a dearth of information out there, and we can be of service to our Extension agents who may get questions about hops production.”

A popular variety she plans to experiment with is Cascades.

Scoggins is also collaborating with faculty members from the Department of Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science to study downy mildew resistance in hops.

While the craft brewing industry is growing, Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic lag far behind in hops production. One acre of hops plants in Oregon produces between 1,000 and 2,000 pounds of dried hops. Meanwhile, the same variety grown in North Carolina yields 160 to 320 pounds of dried hops, according to research done by North Carolina State University.

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