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Hops Breeding Program to Support Better New York Varieties

Craft brewing is one of the fastest growing areas of the craft beverage industry in New York. There are more than 440 licensed breweries across New York which contribute 20,000 full-time jobs and produce 1.2 billion barrels of craft beer annually, according to an article in the Cornell Chronicle.

However, New York hops growers have struggled with producing varieties of hops popular throughout the U.S. due to common diseases like downy mildew and powdery mildew. 

A new hops breeding program at Cornell Agritech will expand and develop New York hops varieties selected for yield, flavor, and disease resistance. This is all thanks to a $300,000 investment by New York State backing its $3.4 billion craft brewing industry. 

The new program will be led by Larry Smart, a Cornell professor of Horticulture in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences who aims to bring AgriTech research to the hops growers of New York’s fastest growing area of the craft beverage industry. 

Consumer demand for local craft beers and unique flavors has grown with the industry. “Quirky hop varieties are all the rage to today’s craft beer consumer. Consumers want ‘new and different,’ and this is why a hops breeding program is needed in New York state,” Rick Pedersen, owner of Pedersen Farms which produces hops for breweries in the Finger Lakes, told the Cornell Chronicle. 

For a New York brewery to receive a farm brewery license, at least 60% of the brewery’s hops and 60% of other ingredients must be grown in the state. This is a challenge that breweries are faced with because, in part, of a lack of access to New York hops varieties. 

Smart’s goals for the breeding program include breeding for disease resistance and improved yields. He plans to work with other hops breeders who specialize in disease resistance. The early stages of the program, however, will focus on accumulating hop germplasm. Smart is working on obtaining the newest commercial releases in the U.S. as well as seed and pollen for cross-breeding with New York hop varieties, both established and feral. 

Smart also plans to identify appropriate flavor profiles and varieties for the New York craft beer industry and New York growers by working closely with the Cornell Craft Beverage Institute (CBBI) at Cornell Agritech. He will ensure that any of the new hop varieties that come out of the program will be offered to New York growers first. Although it may take several years, the varieties will be offered to growers through Cornell’s Center for Technology Licensing.

“I think craft beverages are most successful and consumers are most engaged when there is a unique sense of place expressed. We’ve gained the most traction with products that suit New York as opposed to imitations of what works in other places,” Chris Gerling, senior extension associate at CCBI told the Cornell Chronicle. “This breeding program will play a crucial role in providing hops to help brewers further demonstrate our own regional strengths and our own preferred styles”.

Read more about the new hops breeding program.

Claire Norman

Claire is a Senior in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. She chose an interdisciplinary major where she could blend her passions for small-scale agriculture and education. Claire comes from a small dairy farm in Pine Plains, NY, where she grew an appreciation for the natural environment, but it was through FFA that she developed a passion for education. She hopes to one day bring agriculture to her classroom and to support community agriculture.
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