Emo Agricultural Research Station hops to it

Merna Emara
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Emo Agricultural Research Station is planting yards of hops for this year’s plantation project. Hops are primarily used to add bitterness to beer, and are being explored as a future crop in the region.
The 54-hectare research station is owned by the University of Guelph and is located in Chapple Township in Rainy River District, and is in operation from mid-March to mid-December.
According to University of Guelph’s website, Emo Agricultural Research Station is very well situated to demonstrate both Eastern and Western recognized crop varieties.
The station primarily focuses on adapted crop species such spring wheat, barley, oats, canola, soybeans, flax and perennial forages such as alfalfa, grasses and clovers.
Research areas also include cultivar evaluation, crop nutrition and evaluating new species. Previous research has been conducted on renewable fuel and fibre crops including hybrid poplar, hemp, switch grass and miscanthus.
Kim Jo Bliss, manager of the research station, said they receive funding each year to hire students to help with planting the seeds, counting the crops and analyzing the harvest.
“Normally we hire two students but because of COVID they only wanted us to hire one and cut back on our trials because when this all started we were so unknown,” Bliss said. “We did not know what was going to happen. I report to Guelph and Ottawa where COVID is much more prevalent than in Emo. A lot of the people that I worked with had families that were frontline workers so it was really scary for those people.”
The student who got hired this year is Katie Hay, a third year animal science student in Minnesota.
“We hired Katie, but it is also a challenge because it is hard if you don’t know how research trials are all laid out,” Bliss said. “Katie is a quick learner, but it still takes time because our equipment is different and students are gone before we do the harvesting and the measurements, which is unfortunate because they did all the work.”
The hops project is a local initiative, run separately from the University of Guelph. It is funded by Rainy River Future Development Corporation (RRFDC) and Northern Ontario Farm Innovation Alliance (NOFIA). Bliss also said there is the option of maltine barley project for some of the brewers and it is funded by Green Farmers of Ontario (GFO) and NOFIA. The funding depends on the actual project.
“The hops is more of a demonstration type project because we were looking at crop that would promote others to grow it that does not take a lot of land base,” Bliss said. “If you live in the country and have a few acres you could easily put in a hops chart. The biggest thing is how you are going to market because you can put a lot of money and still have to sell it and find some income.
“Lake of the Woods Brewery in Kenora has expressed interest in having access to more local hops. Last year they actually got some of our hops and they did a wet brew.”
There are currently two yards of hops put up now which they are harvesting by hand.
“This is an exciting project because the hops grow up really fast and you drive by the highway you see them,” Bliss said. “You take three vines and wrap them around the string clockwise and leave them go, but then you are cutting back the other vines because they will kill themselves and get more disease and drown themselves out.”
Bliss said they were uncertain about how they would operate under COVID-19 restrictions because it is hard to keep six feet apart while planting.
“This was good for me because we had a really bad fall last year so not all the fall work was completed,” Bliss said. “I was a little nervous about the spring because of the situation that we were in. We did not get everything done. When they told us one students, less trials it actually worked out in our benefit because I did not have to stress about all the work that was still out there. We ended up having a really decent spring and it turned out fine. It has been pretty dry this week but we got all of our stuff planted in good time.”
Most of time the University of Guelph decides on the crop that will get planted. But Bliss also has a lot of say because she knows the type of soil and the weather conditions in Emo.
“We plant end of April or early May. Next week we’ll start cutting forages, we have to spray to kill weed. When July comes around we do more forage work. In August we start harvesting our crops,” Bliss said.
“Once we get most of the seeds here is when we do all of the data. If it is a new variety that they are developing then we will send all the seeds back. The data goes in a big book most farmers use to make decisions on what to grow and what not to grow.”
When all the data is collected, it gets uploaded to different websites depending on the crop itself. There are some websites such as GoSoya and GoForages that collect all the information so that they are readily available for farmers.
“If a local future development said they want to see something happening in the district that others could take from it, then we can decide that for ourselves. A few years ago, there was talks of cutting stations again and we had to start seeking more agencies that would out money into trials.”