Grower Perspectives: Organic Hop Farming

by | Aug 21, 2019

“Organic farming for me is more connecting.  The raw emotions of farming are more pronounced.  I must be on purpose with and open to what mother nature tells me.” -Michael Roy, Roy Farms

At Yakima Chief Hops, we are committed to serving every niche corner of the brewing community, including those with a passion for using Organic ingredients. We proudly supply brewers worldwide with Certified Organic Hops sourced from family-owned farms, including Roy Farms of Moxee, WA. This month, we had the opportunity to chat with Michael Roy of Roy Farms to discuss how Certified Organic Hops are grown and harvested. Read below to learn more.

  • What is your position and role at Roy Farms, and how long have you been working on the farm?
    • My current role is CEO/President. I have worked on the farm on and off since I was a child.  I have been back full time since around 2005.
  • When was Roy Farms established, and for how long has Roy Farms been growing USDA Certified Organic Hops? 
    • The farm was established in 1907 and we have been growing Certified Organic Hops since 2006.
  • Describe the brief history of Organic Hops Northwest.
    • Organic Hops Northwest started with the formation of American Organic Hop Growers Association which was a non-profit with the purpose being to lobby the change of the USDA rule which allowed non organic hops to be used in the production of organically labeled beer. Through that process some of the brewers were worried about the availability of organic hops. Listening to their concerns and after we successfully got the rule changed, a group of four growers out of the greater Yakima Valley started OHNW as a sales desk in order to align supply.  We wanted to meet the needs of the brewer while preventing oversupply in the niche market.
  • What does Roy Farms do in order to prepare and maintain a Certified Organic Hop field?
    • The biggest thing we do to prepare for an Organic certified block is we must have in our care and custody and prove 3 years of no chemical applications prior to the first certified Organic harvest.  During the transition we are ideally conditioning the soil through cover cropping and Organic soil amendments. That doesn’t always happen though since the market seems to like last minute signals.  We have believed in Organics and have been and continue to carry Organic acreage in our inventory ready for the market.  Maintaining certification involves submitting a plan to Oregon Tilth (who is our certifying body) and following up with an annual audit of our systems.  This is in the most simplistic terms.  There is a lot of record keeping in preparation for our audit.
  • What specific activities take place on the farm in order to grow and harvest Certified Organic Hops?
    • Outside of all the documentation, the major steps in producing a crop are similar to conventional, it just requires a higher level of execution.  There is less room for error so you really need to be on top of your game if you want to reach towards conventional yields which is our goal.  Harvesting requires a clean-out of your harvesting machine prior to running Organic product and requires a lot of precautions to prevent cross contamination of conventional and Organic, both during processing and after packaging. We have been able to grow our acreage to the point where we have a dedicated Organic facility.  This helps a lot with harvesting logistics and potential chemical cross contamination of harvesting equipment.

  • Does it involve any special equipment or expertise on the farm?
    • There is some investment in equipment.  The biggest piece is having dedicated sprayers and more of them as we need quicker turnaround times.   We need to have a balanced plant and that requires more trips to correct nutrient deficiencies or things like soaps or oils for pests.  We also need to really understand what’s happening with the plant nutritionally so there is either an increase in consulting expertise or on-staff expertise in this area.  We have on-staff expertise and are lucky to be partnered up with industry leading consultants as well.
  • What are some of the major challenges that the farm has encountered with growing Organic Hops, and how have you worked to overcome them?
    • Most of the challenges for me have been cultural.  Time is critical when growing a fast paced and demanding hop crop and even more so in Organic.  You don’t have the heavy hammers that you have in conventional so we must be on top of it and execute quickly.  This has taken time and we have enough critical mass now that the acreage isn’t thought of last, its thought of first.  The other challenge can be aphids.  I feel every year we make advancements in how we monitor, predict and treat them.  It’s still a challenge at times.  Most of our advancements have come from tapping into the plant.
  • What are some interesting facts or observations you can share about Organic farming that you have learned over the years?
    • I continue to be fascinated by how in tune we must be in order to grow Organically at the highest level.
  • How has Roy Farms perfected the art of growing Organic Hops through generations of experience?
    • I would say that we have not perfected the art of growing Organic hops yet.  This will be a life-long journey.  We have definitely made quite a few mistakes and continue to make mistakes.  We continue to learn every year and we incorporate those into our processes.  This process of continual improvement is important and makes us sharper as a farm.
  • Do you foresee any changes happening with Organic Hop farming in the future?
    • I do not see any major changes in the future.  I see us having better predictability through analytics and I hope to see the global market for sustainably sourced products increase.  Organics is one way to deliver on this.
  • Why does Roy Farms choose to grow Certified Organic Hops?
    • Organic farming for me is more connecting.  The raw emotions of farming are more pronounced.  I must be on purpose with and open to what mother nature tells me.

For more information about our Organic Hops Program, contact [email protected].