R&D keeps British growers top of the hops

Kent farmer Tony Redsell is the UK’s largest hop grower, with 220 acres of traditional hops on three holdings near Faversham. And 2011 was his 62nd hop harvest. Tony grows English aroma hops – East Kent Goldings, first developed in the late 1700s, and Fuggle, developed in the 19th century. In addition, he has Northdown and Challenger hops, varieties that were bred at the Wye horticultural research station in Kent during the 1960s.

Tony says: “Probably 80 per cent of our production is English aroma hops, East Kent Goldings and Fuggle, and between 20 per cent and 25 per cent of that production is exported to America every year.” The delicate, citrus aroma of East Kent Goldings is increasingly sought after by brewers worldwide for ‘single hop varietal’ beers as well as for use in some wheat beers.

Tony is behind an application to the European Union to seek Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status for ‘East Kent Goldings’. He says: “The Tettnang hop growers in Germany have PGI status as they claim to produce speciality hops. If they can get it, then so can we!” The application has progressed through its early stages and a decision from Europe is now eagerly awaited.

Tony believes that research and development is vital to the industry. He is a great supporter of the research and development work undertaken by the National Hop Association. The association was formed by hop growers in 1982 to coordinate hop research and breeding programmes at HRI Wye College in Kent. Growers and corporate sponsors from the brewing industry, including Kent brewer Shepherd Neame, came to the rescue of the association in 2006 with the closure of Wye and loss of government funding for research. Fortunately the association was able to retain Dr Peter Darby, the leading scientist behind Wye’s breeding programme.

Tony says: “We felt it was important not to lose the breeding stock and the expertise that had been built up. So we secured start-up funding – £25,000 from Government for a three-year period to enable the programme to continue. By the fourth year, one third of its income came from overseas, with contracts from the French hop growers, growers in the Czech Republic and in America.

“The national hop breeding programme and the national hop collection are vital, particularly given the challenges we face with pests, diseases and climate change. The programme is trialling some clones from South Africa to see if we can develop a hop that can manage without winter chill.”

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