Kono Hops

Training young hops to wend their way skyward is not a comfortable job when you’re a 6’4” tall lad. 

Fresh out of high school in 2011, Dylan Morris was given the choice of two jobs at KONO Horticulture in Motueka – he could either thin apple trees or tend newly-planted hop bines. He didn’t hesitate. He chose to start his hop-growing career.

“It’s an exciting industry and, for me, growing hops was a completely new challenge with a lot to learn,” he says. “I grew up in Tapawera where all my holiday jobs were in some sort of farming or horticulture. Even when I was only six years old, I’d earn my pocket money by going with my parents to pick berries.

“The possibilities for the hop market are global and that’s exciting. It means there are a whole lot of opportunities for growers and for my own career, too.”

Nowadays, Dylan is KONO Horticulture’s Hop Manager, which means he’s managing people rather than working hands-on with plants. But he has vivid memories of spending entire workdays ‘folding down’ onto his knees, working his way along the rows to train each bine to take hold on its support string.

“I trained hop plants all day long – pretty much spent two growing seasons down on my knees,” he laughs. “I am almost 6’4” tall, so that was never an easy job for me – it was back-breaking work. But growing hops appeals to me because I’m a really methodical person and I like the time management it requires. Timing is absolutely critical through every stage of hop-growing.”

KONO Horticulture was producing apples, pears and kiwifruit when the decision was made 12 years ago to diversify the business with another crop – hops.

“Hops were growing on properties all around us, but none of us knew anything about them, let alone how to grow them,” remembers KONO Horticulture’s Manager, Martyn King.  “We decided a good way to get started was to plant them, grow them and leave the harvesting and drying process to people with years of experience. So, we set up joint ventures with two hop farming families – the McGlashens family of Mac Hops and the Inglis family who had Northwood Hops.”

Martyn grew up in Wellington – a city boy, he says, who studied horticulture and has spent his entire working life, thus far, growing fruit, flowers and vegetables. Planting hops - a crop he’d never worked with before - was not at all daunting. In fact, Martyn says he’s confident the KONO team can grow anything really well and they’d all come to “really love” the remarkable hop plants.

Initially, KONO established 20 hectares of hop gardens alongside its orchards of apples, pears and kiwifruit. The gardens now line up across 37 hectares, producing seven hop varieties – Nelson Sauvin, Motueka, Riwaka, Cascade, Green Bullet, Pacific Jade and Wakatu. 

“At the same time as we were expanding, our partners were investing in more processing capacity. Come harvest time, our work is done, as they take over.  For now, all we do is grow them…but there are plans afoot for more. 

“We have a dream to farm under regenerative farming principles, focusing on the land’s health – whenua ora principles. Hops lend themselves to those principles, especially as they don’t have pest and disease issues.”

The company is planning to grow the hop-producing component of its business by investing in a hop processing plant of its own, as well as doubling its footprint in hop gardens.

“Hops are actually a really interesting plant – they’re not a food, so it’s a lot simpler to grow,” he says. “It’s a very old and traditional plant which can grow strongly in this modern environment and still remain relatively pest and disease resistant. I believe we have quite a future in hop production.”  

- written by Victoria Clark

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