Hopping About in Tasman /
The boom of commercial hop gardens in Tasman in recent years has meant changing vistas in this area, especially on a drive past Wakefield and Foxhill, around the Moutere and Motueka area and out Tapawera, Tadmor way.
The changing landscape of Tasman
Not so long ago in this area, you would see dairy cows, sheep and beef farms, boysenberries, raspberries, blackcurrants and apple and pear orchards; now tracts of this land are forested in five-metre poles. Visit in January and you’ll see hop bines spiralling clockwise, shooting up strings to a canopy of wires. Come in February or March and you’ll see bines being stripped down at harvest time.
This boom in commercial hop gardens is in response to an explosion of craft brewing, especially in the USA. But in fact hops have grown in Tasman since the early days, as charming, dilapidated oast houses that dot the landscape tell.
The first hop gardens, planted by English and German settlers, sprang up in the Nelson Tasman area mid-19th century and some of those early gardens are still in hops. Take The Pines property at Riwaka where I meet Andy and Julie Drummond and their son Matt, a sixth-generation hop grower.
Matt’s ancestors planted their small plot of English hops in the late 1870s. ‘In 1883 hop merchants were buying hops for two shillings and sixpence per pound of hops, this being a record price for those days,’ Andy tells me.
Andy says his father was still picking hops by hand in the early 1960s and got his first hop machine in 1964. Andy and Matt show me their recently purchased German WOLF 315 hop-picking machine, in the shed. ‘It’ll be a labour-saving device – an investment in a 50-year future,’ Andy tells me. These days the family harvests 18 ha of hops.
Once the machine separates the cones from the bine, the cones are kiln-dried and pressed, and like turbo-charged wool bales – weighing an average of 125 kilos each – they’re then trucked to Appleby near Richmond. And it’s here that New Zealand Hops Ltd takes over the Drummond’s hop crop.
New Zealand Hops is a grower co-operative. Today it provides research and processes, packages and dispatches its shareholder growers’ hop cones, most of which are processed into pellets. New Zealand Hops has long been in the hop business, since 1939.
However, over the last five to six years, Supply Chain Manager Tim Tyler tells me, ‘New Zealand Hops has seen its grower shareholders expand from 16 to 28.’ The total hectares for the New Zealand Hops Co-op, currently going into the 2020 crop, is 739 ha from those 28 shareholders – their gardens all being within a 40-kilometre radius of the New Zealand Hops production plant at Appleby.
‘Eighty-five per cent of the production goes overseas,’ Tim continues. Next year they expect 90 per cent will be exported.
‘We export all over the world: USA is the biggest, next is EU followed by Australia and Japan.’
And in a spirit of optimism, last year, New Zealand Hops added another 30 per cent of floor area to their factory, ‘to meet existing and future demand’. As well they purchased a new form, fill and seal packaging machine, ‘the largest one in the country at the moment’, Tim says.
Up until four years ago all Nelson Tasman hops went through New Zealand Hops. Then, in 2016 an independent purchaser arrived in Tasman and for 9.8 million, venture capitalist Michael Robert Stone from the USA bought 120 ha
in Upper Moutere’s Sunrise Valley and set up Freestyle Hops. It is now marketing, processing and distributing its own hops as pellets. I talk to CEO Dave Dunbar, a quietly spoken American. ‘Things are positive, I feel pretty good about the situation,’ he says. ‘I’m excited about working with great breweries all over the world, advancing the ball in terms of research and producing exciting aromas and flavours.
‘We export 75 to 85 per cent of our hops and have customers all over the world – USA, UK, Europe…’ Dave says. Wellington Craft Brewer, Garage Project, is also one of their customers.
Vistas of the land change every six months. Take a drive up Sunrise Valley in the summer and look down on Freestyle Hops’ long narrow strip of land, wall-to-wall carpeted in an elevated green canopy of hops. Come in winter and ‘with the bare poles only showing, people ask what it is that’s growing’, says Annette Eggers, whose family owned the land.
Annette’s German ancestors first grew hops here in the late 19th century and apart from some apples, blackcurrants and sheep over the years, she says most of the land has been in hops.
Unlike 60 km south of Nelson at Tapawera, where Hop Revolution’s shop gardens are stretching along the valley towards Kohatu. In 2017 its 115 ha Tapawera Hop Garden was established on land that had grown blackcurrants, had farmed sheep and beef and had old tobacco kilns on it, harking back to when tobacco had a place in the sun.
Hop Revolution also built a huge 2,700-square-metre green shed, the inside of which is on an industrial scale. Here, after the hop picker separates the cone from bine, the cones are kiln-dried, pressed and baled then trucked to a Nelson cool store. From there the hop cones are shipped to the USA in refrigerated containers.
Later, outside with Hop Revolution’s Operations Manager Jono Trolove, we’re looking at the Tapawera Hop Garden’s dripper lines that Jono says are long enough to be stretched from Tapawera to Christchurch, when we chance a couple of MyFarm investors from Christchurch, wandering around looking at where their dollars are hopefully (sic) growing.
Hop Revolution is funded by a syndicate of MyFarm investors, who put in a minimum of 100,000 each.
Hop Revolution’s expansion is currently underway, with
It’s said that on a perfect day in December with the humidity and heat needed, a hop bine can grow 300 mm a day.
a further 115–130 ha (closer to Kohatu) in development: the Wairua Hop Garden. This land was bought from Evan Baigent, who says he was a dairy farmer from the time he was in a bassinette. Over coffee at the nearby Kohatu Flat Rock Café, Jono and Evan talk about how Evan’s land was one of three dairy farms of the same size in the Tapawera region converted to hops in the last three years. Each farm carried 400 to 500 cows.
Remember all the blackcurrants along the Moutere Highway near Neudorf ? Here a 3 km stretch is now lined by hops. One of these gardens, Mac Hops, is an 82 ha block, converted only two years ago by the established hop-growing McGlashen family. With their home hop garden in behind Motueka and harvesting hops from a total of 110 ha, Mac Hops Director Brent McGlashen tells me they’re New Zealand Hops’ largest hop supplier.
It’s said that on a perfect day in December with the humidity and heat needed, a hop bine can grow 300 mm a day. In its first year, a hop crown planted in September will start shooting in October, and a half-sized crop can be harvested in March. Andy Drummond said his father reckoned he could hear the rustling of the hops growing at night. Today there must be some in Tasman who hear hop gardens growing in their sleep.
And although Tasman’s long been New Zealand’s main hop provider and ticks all the boxes for what’s required for consistent commercial production at 41 degrees latitude, it still begs the question, what makes Tasman so special for this growth of commercial hop gardens at present?
Tasman, it just seems, hits the sweet spot, meeting an insatiable thirst for craft beer.
Cameron Ealam of Holmdale Farm is one of NZ Hops Ltd's newest growers.
ABOVE / Three generations. Matt, Andy and Matthew Drummond of The Pines at Riwaka with their new hop picker. The Pines won New Zealand Hop Ltd's 2019 Hop Farm of the Year Award.