Certifications help distinguish hops farm
Salmon-Safe has certified more than 60,000 acres of farm, urban lands
By DAN WHEAT
MOXEE, Wash. -- Roy Farms Inc., one of the nation's largest hops farms, is the first in Washington to have acreage certified as Salmon-Safe.
About 150 acres of the farm's 3,500 acres of hops around Moxee are organic and have been certified by Salmon-Safe, a leading ecological label in Portland, for following practices beneficial to salmon.
"The momentum inside our company is to meet or exceed certain third-party certification for auditing agencies like Global Gap and Salmon-Safe," said Michael Roy, a fourth-generation co-owner of the 106-year-old farm and overseer of its conventional and organic hops.
Eventually, he would like to see more of the conventional acreage, including 1,000 acres of apples, cherries and blueberries, use sustainable and organic practices that would meet Salmon-Safe standards.
"It may not work, but it's a concept we're pursuing," Roy said.
Roy Farms produces more than 6.4 million pounds of conventional hops and more than 180,000 pounds of organic hops annually, he said.
Salmon-Safe has certified more than 60,000 acres of farm and urban lands in Oregon, Washington, California and British Columbia for meeting criteria.
"We want to be recognized and ahead of the curve in meeting or exceeding expectations of third parties," Roy said. "There is a growing demand for Salmon-Safe products among craft breweries and large-scale breweries."
Roy said he doesn't see Salmon-Safe hops yielding a greater return per pound but thinks the possibility exists. The driver, he said, is that consumers want it and it's the right thing to do.
Carman McKinney, the farm's food safety manager, said Hopworks Urban Brewery in Portland uses organic hops and is interested in making Salmon-Safe logo beer.
To gain certification, Roy Farms submitted a year's worth of pesticide, fertilization, irrigation and water-quality protection records that were fed through a USDA-funded software called PRiME, or Pesticide Risk Mitigation Engine, by Salmon-Safe, Oregon State University and Agroecology Northwest.
The program evaluates the pesticides, their impacts, risks and rate and method of application, McKinney said.
"It ranks the impacts compounds have on fish, small mammals, birds and human health and safety," she said. "All the compounds we use met the criteria."
In addition, the farm had to develop a plan to foster biodiversity in its organic hops fields, Roy said. Wildflowers were added to borders of the fields and in strips between hops rows in places. Rye and buckwheat were added between hops rows.
"It's good for getting beneficial insects out there, for soil structure and health," he said.
Rye as a cover crop stimulates microbial activity in the field for carbon management, said Nick Osbourne, the farm's hop production manager.
"It provides a sort of glue on roots that fertilizers stick on, slowing down leaching loss so that over time we can use less fertilizer and improve water management," he said.
Organic hops are not common but have increased in the last two to three years, Roy said. Before that it was just small pockets of experimental plots with no market viability, he said.
Roy Farms was a founder of the American Organic Hop Growers Association, which successfully lobbied the USDA to rule that starting this year organic hops have to be used to brew organic beer, he said.
Certain varieties of hops work better organically than others, McKinney noted.
"Some varieties grow best conventionally because of challenges with treating certain pests, but we're pretty proud to hear we have an organic product to sell that has been farmed with the fewest potential environmental and health hazards," she said. "It's a smart way to farm and why not look at ways to help protect the watershed? It's a cool program and we're excited about it."