Hops, possibly bound for Florida’s emerging microbrewery scene, get their start at IFAS, thanks to donors.
About five years ago, environmental horticulture assistant professor Brian Pearson started growing hops in his backyard. Finding success, he and two other UF researchers are exploring whether they can grow the crop for commercial use in Florida’s micro-brewing industry.
With the help of grants, private gifts and in-kind donations, Pearson and fellow UF/IFAS researchers Zhanao Deng and Shinsuke Agehara started growing hops at UF research and education centers in Apopka and Balm.
“Preliminary feedback from local brewers suggests that hops grown in Florida can produce pretty good beers,” Deng said.
The UF/IFAS-led study includes testing 14 to 20 varieties, horticultural practices, and chemical and sensory qualities — all of which will give researchers a good idea whether the crop is viable in Florida, Deng said.
In addition to growth and performance, current research is examining quality. Sean Kryger, a former graduate student in the UF/IFAS food science and human nutrition department, recently concluded a sensory evaluation of 12 hop varieties cultivated in Florida in 2017. He identified several cultivars with high favorable chemical and sensory characteristics. Related research is focused on the influence of post-harvest drying of hops, Pearson said.
Another new study uses LED lights to create the optimum daylight environments for hops production. Having more than 15 hours of daylight during the early season is critical to maximize plant growth, while preventing immature flowering. So far, artificial daylight manipulation shows promising results, Agehara said.
According to the Brewers Association, the 195 craft brewers in Florida in 2016 produced 1.25 million barrels. Their economic impact that year was $3.074 billion.
Hops are among the many emerging crops that UF/IFAS researchers hope to grow in Florida. Others are olives, pomegranates, peaches, artichokes, grapes, avocados, papayas, figs, Barbados cherries, broccoli, sweet potatoes, blackberries and raspberries, said Kevin Folta, chairman of the UF/IFAS horticultural sciences department.
A Sampling of UF’s Emerging Crops Partners
Companies that have donated materials and supplies to UF’s pomegranate breeding project are Green Sea Farms (plants), P&H Solutions (compost), Jain Irrigation Supplies (micro-sprinklers) and Yara North America (fertilizers).
Coastal Varieties Management provides significant funding for Zhanao Deng’s blackberry breeding work.
UF alumnus Michael O’Hara Garcia “has invested a lot of time” to catalog olive trees and associated Florida farms, and “was instrumental in pushing the first experimental plots,” said Jonael Bosques-Mendez, director of UF/IFAS Extension Hardee County.
Phillip Rucks Nursery and Agristarts Nursery have donated rootstock liners for associate professor Jose Chaparro’s peach breeding program; and Florida growers provide field space and tree care.