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Hops production reaches new heights

Justin Davey 10/30/2012 @ 11:59am

Looking for a specialty crop to fill a few acres (or many) on your farm? Have you considered hops, a perennial vine whose fruit is used in most beers today? The number of hops farmers has been growing over the past few years, in line with the growing popularity of homebrewers and microbrewers, which has made it easier for growers to sell their crop locally.

The University of Minnesota began researching hops in 2010 and continues to study which varieties grow best in Minnesota and what kind of trellis system they will thrive on. Hops grow as vines, and in Minnesota they grow in rows spaced apart about the width of a hallway. This quality is one of the aspects so fascinating to Charlie Rohwer, research associate at the University of Minnesota. "Hops grow up a trellis that's 20 feet tall -- nothing else does that," he says.

Make no mistake -- growing hops isn't necessarily easy. The 25-foot trellis support poles must be driven into the ground and the crop must be harvested, of course, and proper equipment can sometimes be expensive. Rohwer is experimenting with 10- and 16-foot trellises made of permanent polypropylene mesh, which would simplify trellis installation and maintenance, scouting and pest/disease control, and harvesting. 

Should the University of Minnesota's research prove successful, the midwest could continue to take large steps toward sustaining its growing brewing industry with locally grown hops.

Education and legislation

Karl Siebert, professor of food science at Cornell University, has started offering a Brewing Science and Technology extension class for a mix of home brewers, commercial brewers, growers, equipment suppliers, and more. The nine-hour class has sold out twice this year. 

According to New York Governer Andrew Cuomo's office, there are 75 microbreweries in the state, and interest keeps growing. New state legislation allows microbrewers to sell products on their premises if they've sourced the majority of ingredients from New York growers.

"It's encouraging to see so many people interested in this field and legislation that gives them incentives for using local ingredients," said Siebert. "Now, we need more hops, more barley and more malt houses for the industry to really take hold."

"The fact that microbrewers in the Northeast have increased has made it possible for us to have a market in New York," said Steveb Miller, New York's first hops specialist. "People can now grow hops without having to sell thousands of acres."

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