26 January 2020

Hop to it! These Bemboka farmers need your help!

| Elka Wood
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Mmmmm. Beer

Bemboka producers Ryefield Hops supply some of your favourite craft breweries. Photos: Supplied.

If you love beer – good beer, that is – you’ve tasted Ryefield Hops.

The Bemboka farm supplies its fresh, citrusy hops from the Bega Valley to Capital Brewing Co, Bent Spoke, 4Pines, Cuppitt Craft Brewers, Longstocking Brewery, the Batch Brewing Co and many others.

Established in 2016 and run by sisters Karen Taylor and Jade McManus, along with Karen’s husband Morgan Taylor, this fledgling business has been badly hit by drought and fire this season, and they’ve recently confirmed that despite investing heavily in expanding this season, they will have no crop this year.

Damaged hop plants

Jade estimates that more than half the 3,000 new hop plants they planted last year have died.

Despite the driest conditions farmers have ever seen last year, the Ryefield crew kept hoping there was the potential for a small harvest, and that by buying water and hand-watering their new plants they could “limp them over the line”.

In fact, Jade was hand-watering the hops on December 30th 2019 when she saw a “huge plume of smoke appear in an instant,” – the Weri-Beri fire was nearing Bemboka.

Morgan stayed to fight the fire if necessary while Karen and Jade were busy evacuating themselves and friends and family.

The fire came right up the back of Bemboka’s main street but thankfully didn’t impact the farm.

“We’d lost about 50 per cent of the new plants before the fires and we’re unsure how many others have been lost due to the indirect impact of heat, smoke and wind, ” Jade says.

“It’s pretty hard, losing all that time and money we put into last year’s expansion and all down to factors that are totally out of our control – drought and then fire.”

Rainbow over Bemboka

Despite some spectacular storm clouds moving in this summer, the Bemboka area has seen very little rainfall.

About 20 mm of rain fell on the farm last week but Jade says it will make little difference at this point.

After seeing three small but successful harvests, these farmers are sure about the marketability of hops, although luckily, none of them has quit their day jobs yet.

“The question isn’t ‘is the market there?’ It’s ‘can we make it through these environmental setbacks to another good year?'” Jade says.

Encouraged by numerous friends, Ryefield Hops has set up a fundraising site to accept donations to help cover costs after the crop losses due to drought and fire.

“The 3,000 new plants cost $30,000 and if we could get enough to replant the ones we’ve lost, that’d be great,” Jade says.

Water security is also a priority and any excess funds would be used to construct another large dam on the property.

Harvest crew

The Ryefield harvest crew in the 2018/19 season.

“Everyone in the brewing community has been amazingly supportive and empathetic. We see this fundraiser as a way to get back on our feet as we won’t have anything to sell this year,” Jade says.

“We can’t walk away now, we’ve put too much into Ryefield.”

If you’d like to donate, head to Help A Hop.

A $10 donation equals the purchase of one hop rhizome.

Donations over $100 will be offered a tour of Ryefield Hops next growing season to see the hops first hand.

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