Aaron Moleta and his family are planting 30 hectares of hops near Tapawera. Photo: Simon Bloomberg

Hops on the ‘upswing’

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The hop industry is growing with three new hops farms being planted for next season as the demand for speciality hops for craft beers continues to climb.

There are 18 growers with 450 hectares of hops around the Tasman district, which is the only place in the country where they are commercially grown.

Those growers produced 760 tonnes of hops this season, but that’s set to increase to around 1100 tonnes as at least three new farms and another 200 hectares come on stream over the next four years.

Hops New Zealand chief executive Doug Donelan says the new farms near Tapawera, Tadmor and Korere are the first plantings in “forever” and reflect “an upswing in demand for hops” based on the popularity of speciality hops used in craft beers.

Doug says many of the speciality hops have been developed by Plant and Food Research in Riwaka, which has another “two promising cultivars in commercial growing plots after having been selected through research brewing trials”.

A massive 733 tonnes of this year’s harvest were New Zealand varieties, with 185 tonnes made up of the popular variety Nelson Sauvin.

“The good thing we have going for us is that we have some unique varieties,” Doug says.

“That’s allowed us to push our way into the craft market in New Zealand and overseas and that’s where the high value is.”

Doug says one of the interesting trends has been the increase in domestic demand for hops “which has grown considerably in the last five years”.

The growth in the domestic craft beer market has resulted in exports declining from 90 per cent of the harvest to 75 percent, he says.

New grower Aaron Moleta, who is helping to plant 30 hectares of hops on a family farm near Tapawera, says it is their first venture into the industry.

The Moletas run a sheep and beef farm in the Marlborough Sounds but were keen to diversify into what they see as a growth sector.

Aaron says it will be a significant investment putting in around 2500 poles and 90,000 plants, as well as building a 40m by 26m processing shed.

They are planting 15 hectares in time for next season with another 15 to be planted – they will grow six different varieties.

It is good timing for the Moletas, who are not only investing in the industry on the “upswing” but also missed last season’s wet and windy weather which resulted in slower growth and plant breakages.

Doug says growers were predicting “a dire outcome for the crop” until the weather improved in autumn and “plants responded by filling out marginally and displaying a semblance of a crop”.