Growing hops on the farm.

Thu Jul 07, 2011 12:19 am

My in laws have been very interested and supportive of my beer brewing hobby. They own a 140 acre farm with 60 acres of hayfield and 80 acres of cedar forest. They have set aside one acre for me to grow hops. If I get a good yield and there is a market for it, they will allow me to use 50 acres to grow and sell hops. They only need 10 acres of hay to feed the beef cattle and horses.

So I have some questions...I know the first year is crap. Think in terms of usable hop production. I know there is the "it depends on the hop variety" canned answers, but I'm looking for more of a range, like 1-2 pounds per 12 foot plant, 100 plants per acre, etc type stuff.

- How many plants per acre?
- How many laborers per acre for harvest? It's harvest time. How much can one person harvest in a day, being 12 hour day?
- General consensus is two week harvest window. How many man-hours are required to harvest 50 acres in that time?

We have a saw mill on the farm, fall our own trees, and can process lumber from tree to structure solely on the farm (aka self-reliant). We can build our own trellis from tree to trellis. We are within a half mile of Lake Superior. There are 4 natural springs feeding a small pond on the farm and provide for natural irrigation. It was once a fully operational farm that is now being rejuvenated. It was a homestead farm for Finnish settlers in the late 19th century. In laws bought it off the last surviving member of that family.

I know of Briess in Wisconsin (home state), but are there other hop processors or wholesalers in the region than buy either wet hop shipped in 24hrs of harvest or dried hops? There isn't enough demand locally and it warrants commerce beyond.

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Re: Growing hops on the farm.

Thu Jul 07, 2011 7:26 am

There is a couple shows in the Achives on growing hops, check those out. If I were you I would send that exact question to a bunch of hop growers like HopUnion.
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Re: Growing hops on the farm.

Thu Jul 07, 2011 11:16 am

I'm listening to the hops shows again during work.

Thanks for the Hop Union recommendation. I sent them an email. I also downloaded a PDF of their hops info booklet. It has typical yield ranges per acre of hops listed by variety.

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Re: Growing hops on the farm.

Thu Jul 07, 2011 1:49 pm

You might check with Gorst Valley Hops in Wisconsin. They work with small growers.
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Re: Growing hops on the farm.

Thu Jul 07, 2011 2:42 pm

Not sure where in the UP you are at...I studied forestry at Michigan Tech and have family in Bayfield, WI.

Another more local contact would be Bo (the brewmaster) at South Shore Brewery in Ashland, WI. He is interested in sourcing local ingredients. He gets a locally grown 6-row barley for his base malt but has struggled with getting local hops. He has been working with county extension agents to get local production going. He would know some good people to talk to and might be a potential buyer.

There was an article in the local paper while I was back there last week...see pasted below.

Hops Field Day provides glimpse of potential new crop for area
Staff Writer
Published: Friday, July 1, 2011 10:37 AM CDT
In the late 19th century until just before Prohibition, Wisconsin was one of the leading states in the production of hops, the small, papery, pine cone-like flower that provides beer with its unique bitterness and aroma.

During the harvest time of late August and early September, special trains would bring hundreds of city folk into the country to harvest the hop cones by hand for the production of one of Wisconsin's best known products — the stuff that made Milwaukee famous — beer.

Then in the early 1920s, a horrific plant disease, downy mildew, combined with the advent of Prohibition to completely destroy hop production as an agricultural pursuit. When Prohibition ended in the early 1930s, hop production moved to the Pacific Northwest, where it continues to be a major agricultural enterprise. It has been many decades since hops were produced on a commercial basis in Wisconsin.

However, in recent years, several things have combined to open a new opportunity for the bygone agricultural product.

One has been the proliferation of small regional breweries, making premium quality beers that are eagerly sought by the beer cognoscenti.

As small buyers of hops, local beer producers are all too often at the mercy of the vagaries of hops supply and demand. In recent years, hops production has been affected by its own boom and bust cycle that has left small brewers paying exorbitant amounts for scarce supplies of hops.

The same issue holds true for malted barley, the other main ingredient in beer.

"Wouldn't it be nice, said the small brewers, if we could have local supplies of the hops and barley we need to make our product?"

That is a hope that a project of the Agriculture and Energy Resource Center (AERC), operating out of the former University of Wisconsin Experimental Farm west of Ashland, is trying to address. A pilot project seeking to ascertain the practicality of growing malting barley and hops in the Chequamegon Bay region is under way there, a project it is hoped will demonstrate that hops and barley can indeed be grown on a commercial basis.

One of those working to see if locally grown barley and hops can become a reality is Eugene "Bo" Belanger, the brewmaster of the South Shore Brewery in Ashland.

On Thursday he was at the AERC farm in a crane-like lift, tying binding twine to an overhead cable stretched between reused 20-foot-tall wooden poles obtained gratis from the Chequamegon Telephone Company. The entire setup is necessary to culturing hops, which are an annual vine capable of growing 20 feet or more in the course of a growing season.

The cable-supported twine provides a trellis for the hops to climb skyward, allowing each mature vine to produce up to 10 pounds of hop cones per plant. Using the system, a single acre can produce well over a thousand pounds of fresh hops, ready to be dried and used for beer making.

"We are encouraging the investment in hop fields here in northern Wisconsin," said Belanger. "We are definitely looking for quality-grown hops for our brewery. We need 10 or 12 acres’ worth of product. It's a nice cash crop for local growers, so we are trying to set the stage for that."

Although the 80 mounds supporting 420 individual plants that were being trained to the binding twine supports for the first time represent the smallest possible baby step in that direction, Belanger said it is a demonstration of what is possible.

"This is about one one-hundredth of an acre, and we have about 15 acres we need to go to make it commercial. But we have to learn how to trellis, we have learn how to set poles. We have to learn how to do all that. This is the initial kind of investment that hop growers have to understand."

He said he was delighted at the progress to date. The hops were planted from rhizomes (root cuttings from a parent hop plant) last year. This year, they not only survived the winter, but they are sending tendrils out rapidly. The two- to five-foot plants were wrapped around the twine by hand. In the coming weeks, they will shoot up the twine, reaching their full height at the top of the line, some 18 feet in the air.

Most likely, they won't produce much of a harvest this year. Growing hops requires patience. They don't really come into their full vigor until their third season. But in the meantime, Belanger said AERC is gaining valuable experience in relearning the lost art of hops production.

"We think it's very important for us. We learn more about our product by growing the stuff," he said. "There is no doubt that living the life of a hop farmer and living the life of a barley farmer gets you more in tune with producing quality beer. Signature beers, something that separates you from the rest."

The barley-farming end of the equation began in 2008, and so far the results have been encouraging. This year AERC is growing six different varieties of barley in an effort to find the variety most suited to northern Wisconsin.

They are also growing several different varieties of hops, with names like Hallertau, and Tettinger giving away their Germanic origins. There is also Goldings, a traditional English variety.

According to AERC Barley and Hops Project Coordinator John Adams, it is hoped that the first year will see a firm establishment of the hops. Next year, the hops and barley will be tested to see what potential they have for brewing. He too is interested in hops and barley production's potential for commercial agriculture.

"I think it has potential because we have regional breweries again," he said. "One of the things that made the industry so strong back in the 19th century is that there were breweries in every town. Now that we have more microbreweries, I think there is a potential to grow barley and hops again. It's not as easy as in an arid region like the Pacific Northwest, but it can still be done."

Adams said that a resurgent hops industry would need infrastructure such as mechanical hops pickers and separators, drying and baling equipment, but he didn't consider this to be an insurmountable problem.

"In the past we had armies of people who would come help, and that's not the way we do it now, but Wisconsin also has a rich history of cooperatives. There are people in Wisconsin who are starting to grow hops again, and hopefully we can work together and get the industry jumpstarted," he said.
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Re: Growing hops on the farm.

Thu Jul 07, 2011 4:18 pm

Thanks guys. I'll check those out later when I get home from work. I'm on lunch right now.

Mudhut, the farm is in Keweenaw County and is 20 minutes north of MI Tech.

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Re: Growing hops on the farm.

Thu Jul 07, 2011 5:12 pm

Michigan Hop Alliance are in Traverse City MI. I think they can process hops.
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Re: Growing hops on the farm.

Mon Jul 08, 2013 8:45 am

I second Gorst Valley!! They put on seminars in the late winter. I attended on this past February. Well worth the money!!! You need to attend. Your looking at ~ $10,000 an acre for infrastructure, rhizomes, irrigation, fertilizer, ect. to get started. That's right $10,000 an acre. You will also need a lot of help and some type of drying and baleing system. They are great at marketing your hops and will pellitize them also. They have a coop system for growers.
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