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Infected Hops Being Burned

March 18, 1998

KENNEWICK, Wash. (AP) _ Hop growers in Washington’s Yakima Valley are fighting fungus with fire.

Roots from an estimated 6,000 acres of the crop will probably be torched this spring or summer as farmers battle a tough hop-killing fungus known as powdery mildew.

The destruction could be much worse than initial projections, said Ann George, administrator for the Washington Hop Commission.

``We have never gone into a spring with this disease. We don’t know what to expect. We have to plan for a worst-case scenario and try to protect our crop,″ George said.

Washington’s $100 million hop industry produces about three-quarters of the hops grown in the United States. Oregon and Idaho produce the rest. Hops are used primarily in brewing beer.

Researchers have no idea how well the mildew survived the winter, said Bob Klein, plant pathologist at Washington State University’s research station at Prosser.

But even if mildew survives on only 1 percent of the roots, ``in no time at all you are going to have 100 percent infected plants,″ Klein said. The mildew spores ``blow around with great ease,″ he said.

In an attempt to help hop growers, Yakima and Benton counties’ clean-air agencies announced Monday they will allow farmers to burn hop plants without getting permits or paying fees. Farmers still must notify clean-air agencies about their fires and cannot burn during burn bans.

Altogether, the exemption will save hop growers about $9,000 in permit fees at $1.50 per acre.

``It’s a major step for us and very important that the growers are able to burn their trash,″ said Sean McGree of Hop Growers of America. ``The spores live on live plants. Now we have a way of destroying that plant material.″

After powdery mildew was detected last year, air authorities created burn exemptions.

``We believe several thousand affected mature plants were burned,″ said Gary Pruitt, operations manager at the Yakima Regional Clean Air Authority. He noted the agency didn’t keep close tabs on acreage after passing the exemption.

Burning is one of only a few tools available to hop farmers right now, Klein said. Sulfur is the only approved mildew treatment, though emergency applications are in for three pesticides and Klein expects them to get approved by the end of the month.

Meanwhile, some farmers will be changing from rill irrigation _ where water runs down through the rows _ to drip irrigation, Klein said. With rill irrigation, farmers can’t get to their crops often enough to keep up with mildew because the ground is wet for at least a week at a time.

But new irrigation systems take time.

``It does appear that burning is the best method right now,″ Pruitt said.

He got his first call under the new rule Friday from a grower burning 80 acres of roots.

McGree said hop growers also are close to starting a campaign to eradicate wild hops, which grow along roads and ditches in the valley, and ornamental varieties.

``If those hops aren’t destroyed, they act as hosts″ to the mildew, he said.

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