It’s fresh hop season in Oregon – and as one of the best hop growing regions, we are blessed with some of the most talented and hardworking hop farmers, as well. I chatted about hop farming and the status of Oregon hops with Blake Crosby of Crosby Hop Farms, a multi-generational and historically rooted hop farm in the heart of the Willamette Valley. Read on to discover what creates our hot crops of hops.
Do we have the best hops in the world?
The world is a pretty big place, and good hops are like art: subjective. With that said, of course I think Oregon grows world-class hops, but I do believe each respective hop region has their niche hops that do very well.
What makes Oregon hops great?
Oregon is undoubtedly known for its aroma hops. All the big brewers over the years have (and do) source large volumes of aroma hops from Oregon (the type of hops that impart flavor – and of course aroma to beer, rather than just bittering units). Oregon’s temperate climate lends itself to high quality aroma types as many brewers and growers consider our region to be similar to the Bavarian region of Germany (the world’s largest hop producing region). Aroma hops are also the types mostly used by craft brewers, which makes Oregon hops and the Oregon craft scene a perfect and flavorful marriage.
What do you do on the farm to create & support sustainability?
First we do the simple things like recycling. All cans, bottles, cardboard, etc. is sorted and recycled at the farm on a weekly basis. We are also one of the few hop farms in the country to be Salmon-Safe Certified, which basically means we only apply products to our hops that are proven safe for the watershed. Lastly, we use IPM (Integrated Pest Management) methods to manage the farm, which includes the uses of beneficial insects, cover crops, composting, dust control, drip irrigation, soil moisture / fertility monitoring, etc. What is really making sustainability “sustainable” is the great consumers out there who are willing to pay a slight premium for a product that is produced according to such standards.
Have you visited other hop growing regions in the world? What did you think?
I have been to the Hallertau region in Bavaria (Germany), which was very impressive to say the least. The hop culture and history there is second to none!
What is your favorite time of year?
My favorite time of the year is most definitely summer. I enjoy the long summer days watching the hops grow and mature, and of course you can’t beat the weather in the Willamette Valley!
What is your favorite type of hop?
This is a tough question – from a growing perspective the Nugget, however from a flavor/aroma perspective probably Chinook or Cascade.
Innovations in packaging that create fresh and quality products for our brewers?
Following harvest we immediately package all of our hops in heavy-duty foil barrier pouches at the peak of freshness (some in raw form, others in pellet form from our on-farm pellet plant). The packages are subsequently vacuum-sealed and flushed two to three times with an inert gas (nitrogen specifically). We then test the residual oxygen level of the pouch (which is less than 1%) and also the integrity of the seal through a special leak test method. As a service to our smaller brewing clients and the homebrew community, we also offer the same level of quality assurance and service on 1 lb. packages.
Thoughts on the relationships with our local breweries?
We undoubtedly support the local brew scene and are very much indebted to the many brewers who believed in us as we got started with our direct sales business five years ago. Historically all of our crop was distributed through intermediaries, so getting to know the local brewers face to face has been very rewarding and fun!
How did you get started in hop farming?
My family has grown hops in the Woodburn area since the late 1800’s, so to say I was expected to carry on the family tradition is an understatement. No, but really, my parents were great about never pressuring me into the business as they were wise enough to know that I would need to make that choice on my own. I started working on the farm at a very young age and have done pretty much every job from sweeping the floor of the shop to tractor driving and irrigating. I always had a strong attraction to hops and agriculture (some say it gets in the blood), but I also had passions outside of farming. I ended up graduating from the UO and learned a lot about myself and others during that time. When I came home from school I had a renewed energy and vision for a business model that would encompass my love of hops, farming, and also my passions for art and creativity – coincidentally all core values of the craft brewing industry. Needless to say, I’m very happy doing what I do, but honestly would have never envisioned the path hops have taken me on thus far, definitely a right place at the right time kind of thing!
Trends in hop farming?
The trends in hop farming are toward sustainable farming practices, new and innovative aroma hop varieties, as well as more direct connections with our end users (the brewers). Farming in general is often stigmatized as a simple business, however I can assure you that commercial agriculture is increasingly complex, including hop farming. In the fast paced competitive environment of today, farmers have to also be sharp businessmen who are willing to take calculated risks and adapt to the rapid changes in the marketplace – keeping an open mind is critical.