Himachal hopes to reap bitter-sweet crop of hop

By Vishal Gulati, IANS
Wednesday, November 25, 2009

KEYLONG - The hop flower - used to add a bitter flavour to beer - may bring in sweet business for Lahaul and Spiti district as the government plans to revive its cultivation in a big way.

N.K. Gupta, deputy director of the horticulture department, who is based here, said the government has been popularising the cultivation of hop in the tribal district as a major cash crop.

“We are encouraging farmers to restart the cultivation of hop as a cash crop. This will be a more remunerative crop as the demand for this flavouring agent is on the rise from the herbal medicine and brewing industry,” Gupta told IANS.

At present, more than 500 farmers are cultivating hop on 75 hectares. Most of the farmers in Pattan Valley, Darcha and Satingri are harvesting it on small land holdings. The annual production this year was 47.2 tonnes of dry hops.

According to Gupta, Himachal Pradesh was one of the major hop-producing states in the country till 1995. Its cultivation declined due to poor marketing and processing. “The entire district has the potential to produce 1,000 tonnes of hops annually. If the government manages to achieve this target, it would definitely boost the economy of the region,” he said.

The horticulture department aims to increase its production up to 500 tonnes in the next seven to eight years.

“We are aiming to increase its production up to 500 tonnes in seven to eight years. For this, we are promoting new varieties of hops, strengthening the hop processing facility and its marketing,” Horticulture Director Gurdev Singh said.

The government is promoting the commercial cultivation of the Late Cluster variety as it has maximum alpha acid content and it is one of the best qualities in the world.

Hops are dried in kilns before they are sold in the market for processing. The crop is ready for harvesting from August to September. This season the price of dry hops was Rs.250-Rs.275 per kg.

Farmers have set up a society, the Lahaul Hops Marketing Society, which has tied up with the private plant Aromatic Flora Pvt Ltd. The plant based at Baddi in Solan district purchases produce from the farmers and then sells it further to companies after processing.

The plant has a capacity to process 500 tonnes of hops annually.

Umesh Singh, a farmer in Pattan Valley, said: “We have again started the cultivation of hop as it is more remunerative than peas and potatoes. Most of the companies that earlier depended on imports are now meeting their requirement from hops grown here. So it’s again emerging as one of the cash crops.”

The maximum production of dry hops in the state was 130 tonnes in 1994. At that time, the area under its cultivation was 215 hectares.

Jammu and Kashmir is another state where hop is cultivated. However, its cultivation has not picked up as separatists are against its production because it is an important ingredient in an alcoholic beverage.

Lahaul and Spiti district, populated mainly by tribals, remains cut off from the rest of the country for more than six months in the year owing to heavy snowfall. The climatic conditions of the landlocked district are harsh as much of the land falls under a cold desert.

The other cash crops in the district are peas, cauliflower and potatoes, besides fruit crops like apple, pear, apricot, almond and plum.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)

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