The purpose of this project is to enable a new hop breeding programme, registered as Wye Hops Ltd., to be conducted at a commercial farm site with the aim of developing hop germplasm suitable for delivering improved and novel hop varieties for UK cultivation. It will involve the transfer of the core of the East Malling Research (EMR) hop breeding programme including its materials and protocols. The materials comprise the genetic resources found in an extensive germplasm collection of wild accessions, historic varieties, and parents from the EMR programme, unselected seedlings from crosses made in 2005, and new seedling progenies being raised from crosses made in 2006. The project will refine and adapt procedures for hop breeding as necessary, developing a low-cost breeding programme appropriate for the resources available at the farm site.
Against a background of oversupply in the bitter hop brewing market and shortage in the aroma hop brewing market, the National Hop Association of England (NHA) have identified their main objectives for the immediate future breeding programme. Further commercial varieties are sought with improved pest and disease resistance, building on the success of dwarf varieties such as 'First Gold', 'Sovereign' and 'Boadicea', and the proven demand for aroma from traditional variety 'Fuggle'. Other objectives are strategic, aiming to develop genotypes with increased beta-acid contents suitable for use as an antibiotic in non-brewing applications such as food processing, especially sugar extraction, as well as animal feedstocks. Also, reduced likelihood of prolonged spring dormancy is sought to counter problems starting to arise in hop cultivation from climate change in the UK. This project when completed will allow the NHA to address these objectives with minimal disruption to activities during the transitional phase.
To safeguard the genetic collection and to allow controlled public access to this resource, this project aims to develop a reserve plant collection as part of a new visitor attraction centre managed through a local brewery.
There has been a breeding programme at Wye, Kent since 1906 producing varieties suitable for cultivation in the UK. Growers and the Government (then as the Ministry of Agriculture) have formally contributed to the programme since 1948. Over the century there have been several changes with the programme most recently controlled by EMR and funded through the NHA, with strategic research into pest and disease resistance funded by the Government through Defra. The brewing industry in the UK has contributed on a voluntary basis to the pilot brewing trials of new varieties at Brewing Research International through the Hop Industry Committee of the Institute of Brewing and Distilling (IBD).
The UK hop area at the 2005 harvest was just 1071ha, localised in areas of Kent and Sussex, Hereford and Worcester. The total crop was 31,865 Zentners (1,593 tonnes) with an approximate farm-gate value of £4.8 million. However, the industry also has added-value through associated support industries, processing and extraction centres, and breweries depending on UK hops for their particular product, notably the regional and smaller breweries. Hop products and extracts are finding new markets, notably in food processing, pharmaceuticals and bioethanol production.
The English hop industry raises funds for research as a voluntary levy on hop area. Such a small industry is unable to support the level of expenditure on breeding required for a separate programme within a research institute but it has attracted sufficient funds to set up and run a focussed programme from an existing hop farm where the specialised equipment, machinery and labour for hop husbandry are available, including irrigation.
In the Defra Review of Horticulture R&D Programmes (2005), which included project HH1015SHO on hop breeding, it was recommended that industry should “take forward” the outputs of the projects and “use these tools to develop their own exclusive varieties”. The hop industry in the UK, through the NHA, have embraced this challenge seeing it as necessary to retain a hop breeding programme for the UK for the credibility of the whole English hop industry with both customers and competitors. The NHA believe a breeding programme to be essential for the sustainability of the UK hop industry, to the benefit of all parts of the related supply chain. There will also be wider public benefit from new varieties with enhanced levels of pest and disease resistance; the development of much of this resistant germplasm has been through the strategic Government funding.
This is an enabling project to allow a hop breeding programme to continue in the UK with a transition of control from the public sector to the commercial sector. The project aims to develop a cost-effective, productive programme which is self-sustainable and, thus, safeguards the public investment made by the Government into hop breeding since 1948.