FABI postdoctoral researcher, Dr David Read visited a South African Breweries (SAB) hop farm between 16 and 18 November. David was hosted by Ntjapa Lebaka, hop breeder at the SAB Rob Roy site, as well the managers of the various farms that were visited. This visit formed part of the larger effort surrounding the rebuilding of plant virology capacity within FABI, as well as to foster connections with the intention of building mutually beneficial collaborations for the future.

Hops is one of the primary ingredients of the beer brewing industry and is used as a bittering and aroma agent. In South Africa, cultivation is concentrated around the towns of George and Herold, with roughly 400 hectares of hop gardens, with SAB hop farms (owned by AB Inbev) as the primary producer. Intensive research and breeding initiatives have led to almost exclusive use of locally-bred varieties, such as Southern Star and African Queen.

Viruses and viroids impose significant constraints to optimal hop production and are considered primary pathological problems in several countries, with effective management requiring in depth taxonomic and epidemiological data. Very little is known about the virological status of the local hop industry and represents a new crop of interest for the plant virology group. Metaviromics will be applied to the samples collected during this field trip and will act as a pilot study to provide an indication of which viruses and viroids are present in the industry.