SUNNYSIDE — Just southwest of town, near the Yakima River, the Newhouse Farms field crews are moving through acres of family- owned hop yards, stringing thousands of feet of twine in preparation for the new hop vines.
In the coming weeks, the delicate vines will climb and develop fragrant cones over the course of the next five months eventually ending up in a bottle to be enjoyed by beer lovers everywhere.
On calm days, the tying crews drape the twine over the top yard wires, covering 12-15 acres a day. A separate crew, known as bottom pushers, connect the bristly rope into the ground next to newly budding hop plants.
As the Yakima Valley weather warms, the climbers will make their way up the double twine strands, all covered with two to three-inch long cones.
It’s the first stage of preparation for the 2020 hop crop that will be harvested in late summer. From the on-site kiln and drying floors, the hops will be baled and stored in warehouses, then sold. Eventually they will find their way into vats of aromatic fermented brew.
“It’s a process that takes months of planning,” notes third generation farmer Halley Newhouse. She and her husband Devon operate the South Emerald Road growing acres of hops as well as wine grapes, apple and cherry trees.
The process includes setting contracts, determining what hop varieties to plant, dealing with the farm’s 64 year-round workers and the spring and summer field crews. It’s a process that goes on year-round.
“It’s one thing you can count on,” Newhouse said. “Farm work goes on no matter what is happening in the world.”
She said the grapes have all been pruned and the cherry blossoms survived the early spring days of heavy frost.
Changes in the weather, the market demands and sometimes growth plans “…we work toward the coming year, get put on hold, as we adjust to meet the season,” Newhouse emphasized.
Looking forward to a challenging growing season, Newhouse and her husband had planned to fix up a new yard and were preparing to begin construction on a building to need growing demand for their hops.
“But that all gets pushed back as we adjust to the new normal based on the coronavirus threat,” she remarked.
“We’re looking at what contracts we have out and what our microbreweries think they will need,” Newhouse said.
With the microbreweries and bars closed, there will be a drop in the amount of hops Newhouse Farms sell this year, even though contracts with buyers have already been set.
“There will be some tough decisions to be made there as well,” she admits.
In the meantime, the owners work to keep their workers safe, imposing distancing, and installing sanitation and wash units at various places on the farm including near the time clock.
“We are constantly talking with our workers about COVID-19 and personal safety, she stressed.
Like other businesses, the Newhouse workers are trying to adapt to the new normal and to avoid the possibility of spreading the diseases, which as yet has no cure.