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TAS Country : March 24th 2011
4 Tasmanian Country Friday, March 25, 2011 News Hops high for happy harvest It is harvest time at one of the two remaining hop farms in Tasmania's North-East. Karolin MacGregor PRODUCTIVE: Ian Edwards and family focus on maintaining high yields across their farm. THE Edwards family have been grow- ing hops on their Branxholm property for more than 40 years. Ian Edwards said the hop industry in the North-East had gradually declined since they established their business in the 1970s. ''There used to be about 700 or 800 acres of hops grown in this district, now it's more like 100 acres,'' Mr Edwards said. He said because of record summer rains and flooding, this growing season had been particularly challenging. ''We had flooding through parts of the farm that we've never seen before,'' Mr Edwards said. ''Luckily the water was moving pretty slowly, so it didn't do too much damage.'' The Edwards family have about 30ha under hops in a small, fertile valley alongside the township. Mr Edwards runs the hop farm with his wife Ros and their son Clint. This year's harvest got under way late last week. The harvest normally takes about three weeks. During that time the family have about 30 employees working at the farm in two shifts. Harvesting starts at 7am and runs through until midnight. Mr Edwards said they had people who came back year after year to work during the harvest. ''They seem to enjoy it and we've got quite a few regulars that come every year,'' he said. The crews move through the hop fields cutting the strings that hold up the vines and loading them on to trailers. The vines are then transported to the kiln, where they are fed through a machine that removes the hops and the leaves. After the hops and leaves are separated, the leaves are fed outside on a conveyor belt and land in a large pile, where they are eaten by the family's sheep. Mr Edwards said the sheep seemed to thrive on the leaves and could often be seen climbing upwards as the leaf pile grew bigger. The family have about 600 sheep, which they also run through the hop fields during the growing season. ''I run the ewes and lambs in there the first time because the ewes teach the lambs to eat the leaves,'' Mr Edwards said. ''The next time it's getting closer to harvest, so I just run the lambs in there because they're not quite as vigorous as the ewes and don't damage the vines.'' He said as well as keeping the grass down between the hop rows, the sheep also stripped leaves off the bottom of the hop vines, keeping them clear. They also get rid of the waste leaves while the harvest is happening. ''They love the leaves and they seem to do quite well on it,'' Mr Edward said. ''Once the pile gets quite big, it looks pretty funny seeing them all perched up on top of it.'' Once the hops have been separated, they are put through the kiln and dried. Mr Edwards said it normally took about four hours to dry one layer of hops. The kiln can dry up to five tonnes of hops a day. ''If it's a heavy crop we can be a bit restricted with the drying and that's what slows us down, not the actual harvesting side of it,'' Mr Edwards said. Once they are dried, the hops are packed into large bales, similar to wool bales, and prepared for transport. Mr Edwards said demand for hops has decreased over the years, as breweries became more efficient at using them. ''Years ago they used to use whole hops, but now they process them and turn them into extracts and all sorts of things, so they don't need as many,'' he said. 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