Weekend Farmer: Hops A new crop with potential

Published on Tue, 01/13/2015 - 11:58am

When working with farm families, I’m often asked questions about farm enterprises that sound too good to be true. One example that comes to mind right away is the Ostrich craze of the ’90s. Unless you got in early, there was no return for the price of breeding animals, let alone the daily costs of raising them. However, that isn’t to say that there aren’t some worthwhile “crazes.”

Case in point? The latest farm enterprise for Ohio and other Midwestern farmers: Hops. Spurred by the demands of a growing craft brewing industry and a strong public interest in locally-grown ingredients, Ohio State University, or OSU, is experimenting with hops as an alternative income source for smaller-scale farms.

Follow the money

Ohio’s commercial and craft brewers send an estimated $10 million out of the state each year when purchasing the flowers of the hop plant—called hop cones or hops—from West Coast growers. To help keep some of this economic activity within the state, OSU, with the support from the USDA and Ohio Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant, has developed a hop research and education program that focuses on production and marketing.

R&D

This project allows OSU researchers and educators to develop sustainable hop production practices directly related to Ohio growing conditions. Data collected from field research trials helps Brad Bergefurd, a horticulturist with OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, or OARDC, and others educate growers about production, pest management practices, and marketing strategies as they work towards generating farm profits from this highly sought after crop. This research evaluates the new hop cultivars, innovative hop production techniques, insect, and disease control methods, harvesting, processing, and marketing techniques that can be successfully adopted by Ohio farmers. This will ultimately allow beer manufacturers statewide to spend their money in Ohio by purchasing locally-grown hops, creating local jobs, and allowing local growers to diversify into a high-value specialty crop in the process.

Early encouragement

Preliminary research shows hops can be grown from the sandy soils of the Lake Erie shore to the heavy clay soils of southern Ohio—and all points in between—due to their adaptability to most of the state’s soil types. Hop research plantings were established in 2013 at the OARDC in Wooster, Ohio and at the OSU Piketon Research and Extension Center at Piketon, Ohio on two different soil types. Results show that first-year growers can expect a hop yield of 200 to 4000 pounds per acre, depending on the cultivar, with an estimated value of $2000 to $40,000. In the second and subsequent production years, it is estimated that yields will increase to 500 to 5000 pounds per acre with an estimated value of up to $50,000. While those numbers sound promising, the potential for financial reward comes with a substantial initial investment. A look at initial budgets to establish a start-up “hop yard” can range from $6000 for a low trellis system to more than $10,000 for a standard hop yard trellis system. Hop rhizomes, trellis poles, irrigation, and of course labor make up the big-ticket items within the start-up budget.

Supply and demand

The ever-expanding craft-brewing industry has also meant an everincreasing market for hops. In Ohio alone, The Department of Liquor Control handed out more alcohol-manufacturing permits in the first six months of 2011 than it did in all of 2010, a trend that has continues today. Currently, Ohio has an estimated 100 acres of hops being grown on small acreages. The Ohio Hops Growers Alliance has been formed to cooperatively produce and market hops directly to craft breweries for the rapidly expanding and high-demand market.

To learn more about the hops research OSU is conducting, plan to attend the Hops Field Night in Wooster, Ohio on July 17, contact Brad Bergefurd: Bergefurd.1@osu.edu

Thanks go to Brad Bergefurd, horticulturist with Ohio State University Extension and the OARDC. If you would like to be added to the Ohio Hops email list to receive Ohio hop updates and information, contact Brad at: Bergefurd.1@osu.edu, or call the OSU South Centers (800) 860-7232 or (740) 289-2071 extension 132.