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At Stocks Farm, we’re very proud of our hop equipment. Though we started farming here in 1962, the picking and drying equipment was fitted in the 1950s. The famous “Bruff” hop picker, our harvest workhorse, is still very efficient and is as good now as it was when it was new – we have British engineering to thank for that! Other aspects of the equipment however have become tired and in need of replacement, and this has been our focus ahead of this year’s picking.
We have recently been successful in securing a LEADER grant with funding from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. The grant match funds 40% of the costs which has allowed us to update our old hop drying equipment to state of the art equipment necessary for a modern hop enterprise.
Hop drying is arguably the most important process in hop growing. When the hops are picked, they are about 80% moisture and they are then dried to 10% moisture, allowing them to be stored. Without drying, they would start to compost almost immediately and would not make it around the world for beer production!
Our old drying equipment relied on diesel to dry. During the picking season, weekly deliveries of fuel are required to keep the burners going and with the age of the system, it was quite tricky to get the best out of it – requiring the expert hand of Jurek, who has been drying the hops here for the last 15 years – adjusting day and night to get the balance right.
The new equipment is a modern gas drying kiln system. This equipment is more environmentally friendly – gas emits almost 30% less carbon dioxide than oil – significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It is also much more efficient in its drying capabilities and the method of adjustment makes it easier for Jurek to get the hops to the right moisture level.
The other reason for the change in drying method is because of international customer feedback. Brewers suggested that diesel provided a “taint” to the aroma of the hops, with the gas dried system, there is no longer any taint to the hops. The best quality of flavour possible from our hops is what we strive to achieve and this supports market demand
We have ten wonderful varieties of hops (and a few trial plots) growing here at Stocks Farm, each with it’s own distinct flavour profile. We are seeing the worldwide demand for top quality British hops increasing – from large-scale breweries to microbrewers and home brewers alike! Making this big investment is important because it will enable us to supply what the market is demanding, and not compromise on the quality because of our equipment.
The funding has been vital, as it has allowed us to invest properly – putting in high quality, long–lasting equipment. It also represents an important investment in the future of sustainable hop production, which is something that is very important for us, and the future of the hop industry too.