Yakima Valley is no stranger to hop farms. In fact, about 75% of the total U.S. hop acreage is located in the Yakima Valley. Another huge contributor to the agriculture community sits in between all these acres of hops -dairies. Although these two commodities are unrelated, they have one challenge in common -managing by-products. Together they have found ways to maintain more sustainable and efficient practices on their farms.
Carpenter Ranches have been growing hops in the Yakima Valley since 1865. Roughly 1,500 are designated to growing 15 different varieties of hops, as well as apples, wine grapes, and a few other hobby crops.
Tyler Carpenter, Quality Control and Safety Manager and the sixth generation to be involved on the ranch, says the craft beer phenomenon makes this an exciting time to be in the hop industry.
“The craft beer industry has definitely helped us grow,” Carpenter acknowledged.
Like many other crops, hops need fertilizer to grow and flourish. For years, the Carpenter Family used dairy manure from their neighbors to fertilize. Then commercial fertilizer hit the market and they made the switch.
“Back then, it was easier to use (commercial fertilizer) because you knew exactly what was in it. Testing manure wasn’t as accurate, so it was harder to manage which nutrients and how much were going in the soil,” explained Carpenter.
The use of compost as fertilizer has reduced their need for commercial fertilizers. Carpenter says that their budget appreciates it. Also, going with this natural option has led to other unforeseen benefits, such as more beneficial insects.
In 2011 Russ Davis, CEO of Organix, an organic residuals company, approached the Carpenters to propose a new idea that could not only provide a fertilizer solution to the ranch, but also a way to manage their valuable nutrients.
“On the back side of our picker, we would have several tons of hop waste at the end of the year,” noted Carpenter. “We’d use it for our own compost but knew it wasn’t being used as efficiently as it could.”
Now, thanks to Organix, the hop residuals are mixed with a nearby dairy’s manure to form new products. These raw materials are mixed together and managed over time with thermophilic (high temperature) composting. The finished product is separated into coarse and fine compost - some of which is sent to organic crop farmers for nutrition and erosion control, and some goes back to the hop fields to spread in the fall and before planting. Organic row crop farms use around five tons per acre and Carpenters use about two.
“The hop waste provides porosity which makes it a great stabilizing agent with the dairy manure,” explained Davis.
The Carpenters follow a thorough sustainability program to ensure their farm is caring for the land, and this composting practice plays the biggest role in their program.
“We’re married to it (the land),” said Carpenter. “The better you treat it, the better it treats you. The dairy compost is in line with our sustainability program. It’s natural, and helps with soil structure which benefits with water drainage and nutrient mobility in the soil. It also increases our organic matter which is huge because usually with perennials, you lose a lot.”
Davis says this working relationship between industries benefits everyone involved, even the craft breweries buying the hops.
“It’s a known fact that using organic compost long-term is better than using conventional fertilizer for reasons such as, runoff, leaching, soil health, plant growth - it’s just better for everyone,” said Davis. “I think even those on the buying end of beer would be happy to known the hops were grown with organic compost.”
“To be able to have a program like this, using natural, organic by-product with our neighbors-it’s a perfect combination,” Carpenter concluded.
To learn more about Carpenter Ranches, visit https://ychhops.com/who-we-are/growers/carpenter-ranches.