It’s hop harvest time in George, South Africa…

While the hop plant (humulus lupulus) has its origins in northern Europe, the SAB Hop Farms have been growing them in South Africa for over 80 years.

Hops grow best at latitudes 40 – 54, however, the SAB Hop Farms team based in George has been uniquely successful in growing hops at 34 – 35 degrees latitude. The South African hop industry is the only one in the world to be successful at low latitudes and has been responsible for cultivating some very successful breeds that have changed the industry.

South Africa produces 1% of the total world hop volume with SAB, our South African subsidiary, receiving a significant percentage of its hops from SAB Hop Farms.

SAB Hop Farms also supplies SAB with hops for brewing Castle Lager and Castle Lite outside South Africa, as well as selling hop products to approximately 140 micro brewers and a growing number of international customers.

Indeed hops production in George is to be expanded from 850 tonnes to 1000 tonnes by 2021, with 250 tonnes going to the export market.

Eight private growers, the three SAB Hop Farms and the SAB research unit where the team do most of their hop breeding are taking part in the harvest, sustaining approximately 110 permanent jobs for the industry and 900 seasonal jobs.

SAB Hop Farms have many new varieties under development within their breeding program. During 2015, they began an expansion program that enabled them to increase production of their most popular hop flavor varieties, including Southern Aroma, Southern Passion and J17-African Queen. SAB Hop Farms’ other varieties also include Southern Star, Southern Dawn and Southern Promise. 

Due to the latitude, daytime in George can be about three hours too short for some of these varieties, so for part of the growing season they use high pressure sodium lights to extend the daylight hours. Currently, less than 30% of the hops grown in George require lights, but SAB Hop Farms are focusing their research on breeding truly African varieties that don’t require the extended daylight hours to develop good yields.