Once grown commercially on the East Coast, hops quickly spread to areas with large land, abundant water, and optimal growing circumstances like Oregon and Washington. Despite the fact that Oregon, Washington, and Idaho still produce the vast bulk of the country’s commercial hops, the recent surge in craft breweries has sparked interest in micro-scale production across the country. From New Jersey to Kentucky to Colorado, hobby farmers, small commercial breweries, and homebrewers are effectively producing small-batch hops.
What is a Hop Farm?
Hops are the plant’s female blooms, or cones. Perennials in the broadest sense are all of these varieties.
Hops come in a dazzling array of colors, shapes, and flavors. Hopping businesses can be as little as two acres, but larger ones might be up to 100 acres or even greater.
Hops are raised and planted on trellises, which may be found on the farm. Hopping plants can reach a height of 16 to 20 feet, depending on the variety.
Why You Should Start a Hop Farm Business
There is a need for more hops suppliers because of the growing popularity of craft brews. More than 400 new craft breweries open in the United States each year, according to the US Brewers Association. Craft beer is highly popular among young people, particularly Millenials.
A small amount of land is required in comparison to other forms of agriculture.
For craft brewers in many states, using locally-sourced ingredients is mandated by law.
The Hop Industry in the United States
To feed a brewery in Massachusetts, colonists started a hops farm there back in 1648.
The Pacific Northwest and Wisconsin were the top producers of hops by the 1900s, even though that’s where a US hop farm was first documented.
Today, Washington is the world’s leading producer of hops, with a share of the market of 70%. Idaho contributes 14%, while Oregon contributes 13%. 4 percent of the market belongs to Massachusetts, New York, and other states.
Products You Can Create from Hop Production
The market for wet hops is small. Before they can be exported, hops cones must be dried and processed. However, cones can be utilized “wet.” They must be used within 24 hours if they arrive “wet.”
Brewers use them early in brewing to impart bitterness to the beer. Antibacterial properties can be found in bitter hops.
Aroma Hops – These are the types of hops that impart a distinct flavor to your beer. There are a lot of them. More than 80% of the market is dominated by citrus flavors, such as lemon and lime.
Hops also have “non-beer” uses, such as medical ones. Hops cones can be used as food, chopped and sprinkled on salads and even French fries. In food recipes, hops can replace basil.
How to Start a Hop Farm: 12 Important Steps
1. Understanding the Basics of Running a Hop Farm or Hop Yard
In order for hops to thrive, proper planting and “trellis training” are essential steps in the growing process. However, harvest care is the most critical aspect of running a hop farm.
The drying, cooling, bailing, and pelletizing processes all have an impact on hop quality.
2. Learning the Resources Needed for Running Hop Farms
Harvesting necessitates a lot of pricey equipment. Many states have regional hop growing associations whose members may be able to pool their resources and expertise. Equipment for harvesting is usually shared.
Is there anything more we need?
This is why hops are so fast-growing: in six weeks, they can grow 20 feet tall. During the off-season, newcomers can build their trellises.
These systems can cost up to $4,000 per acre for drip irrigation.
Sprinklers mounted on the roof — The price per acre is around $1,000.
Hand-harvesting is an option for hops. You’ll need a hops picker when the plants are fully ripening. More than six vines each minute can be processed by the largest machines, which can cost up to $35,000 each.
Bales of 200-pound hops are wrapped in burlap and weighed by the hops bailers.
PTO systems on tractors power harvesters and bailers.
3. Learning the Plant Varieties
Hops with citrus undertones are among the most popular. Citrus flavors accounted for 40% of the market in 2012. In today’s market, citrus flavors account for 80% of all sales.
Many of the flavours are citrus-based, and there are many more to choose from.
There are a variety of ways to learn about a target market. Specialized kinds are becoming increasingly prevalent.
Hallertauer is one of them. It’s a popular German hop used in lagers and ales, as the name suggests. The market for bittering hops is also expanding. Golding is a British hop used for bittering and recognized for its moderate spiciness.
4. Ordering the Plant Stock and Timing Delivery
They are sown in the early months of the year. Perennials have a lifespan of five years, with the best years of production occurring between the ages of three and five.
You’ll need 800 to 1200 plants per acre, depending on your spacing.
Rhizomes, which are the roots of the female plant, can be planted. Crowns, on the other hand, are the complete plant.
In the fall, rhizomes can be easily obtained. You can buy them now and keep them in a cool, dark area for planting in the spring.
5. Planting the Rootstock
Planting Rhizomes and Crowns is done by hand only. You should plow or till the soil before planting.
6. Caring for Hop Plants
The amount of water available and how pests and nutrients are managed are critical considerations.
Fertilizer based on nitrogen should be applied in quantities of 150 pounds per acre. The timing of the application is crucial.
The trellis must be “trained” by hand to encourage the plants to grow up it.
The plants require 30 inches of rain during the growing season. You’ll use your drip irrigation system instead because that isn’t always possible.
To get rid of pests, you’ll have to use IPM (Integrated Pest Management). Hop aphids and two-spotted spider mites are the primary pests.
Powdery mildew and downy mildew can be prevented or treated with a fungicide.
7. Harvesting Hop Plants
To separate the female flowers, the vine of the hop plant is fed through a hop picker after being trimmed to a short height.
8. Drying Hops
A moisture meter is used to determine how dry hops are. No less than 6% moisture content is required.
Mold can form if the hops aren’t dried thoroughly. The hops will shatter and lose quality if they’re too dry.
Due to the high cost of kilns, many hops growers opt to have their product dried by specialized companies.
9. Storing Hops
Keeping dried hops out of direct sunlight and heat is a must. When it comes to hops, the cooler it is, the better.
10. Learning the Brewing Process for Craft Brewers
Drinking water, barley (malt), and yeast are the primary constituents.
These are the steps:
- Wort is made by mashing the components and grains together with boiling water.
- Bringing Wort to a boil in a kettle is the final step in the preparation process. Aroma hops are added later in the process, while bittering hops are introduced earlier.
- In this step, the yeast is added to the boiled mixture and the mixture is allowed to ferment. The sugars will be turned into alcohol by the yeast.
- After that, it’s just a matter of putting the finished product into a container.
11. Marketing Your Hop Business
The first step in promoting your hops is to join your local or regional hop-growing group online.
To promote your craft beer, you should use social media and a website. Collect email addresses from attendees at tastings and other events.
Remember that even though you’re located in the east, you’re still competing with farmers in the Pacific Northwest. Shipping costs are low because the product is small and light.
Make your own specialty brews with the harvest you’ve collected. Offer your products to commercial and homebrew brewers in your area by leveraging your website and other marketing efforts to generate orders.
How Much do Hop Farmers Make?
Sample budgets for various-sized hop farms have been created by Hop Growers of America.
A person’s income is influenced by two key factors:
- What you’ve been in business for The expense of capital investment and the time it takes for hop plants to mature eat out the first year or two of profits (3 years).
- Your farm’s acreage in acres.
Hop Growers of America has the answers to all of your inquiries. Typically, a pound of hops costs between $3 and $15. The yield per acre can reach 1,800 pounds when the plants are fully ripe.
Almost all of the hops used by craft brewers are purchased in bulk. It can be difficult for newcomers to get their foot in the door with long-standing agreements.
Things to Consider Before Starting a Hop Business
Hops require a growth season of 120 days. After harvesting, the roots are left in the ground. The plant’s chances of survival are slim if the temperature drops below -20 degrees Celsius. USDA hardiness zones 3-8 are the ideal for them to flourish.
A location with rich, well-draining soil and 6-8 hours of direct sunlight every day is ideal.
Climate and Environment
A pH range of 6 to 7.5 is ideal for soil. Having a summer that is both hot and wet is the ideal environment.
Pacific Northwest is a leading area because of this.
Each state has its own set of environmental regulations. Additional licenses, permissions, and approvals may be required in some states for certain activities.
In New York, a special license is necessary.
Your Target Market
Contracts have been formed for the products of established growers. As a general rule, these contracts are for a long period of time, typically several years.
Long-term partnerships between producers and purchasers should be the focus of your investigation. A good place to start is your local neighborhood association.
Which consumers do you have? How likely are they to order this type? Are they in the food or beverage industry, or are they home brewers? These are important things to keep in mind.
The majority of the work is done by seasonal workers. During planting and “trellis training,” there is a demand for workers. Monitoring pests and fungi, as well as the water supply, requires a permanent crew.
Farms necessitate specialized insurance policies. Crop insurance, for example, can assist protect you against crop loss caused by weather calamities. In addition, you’ll need standard commercial insurance to cover your buildings, farm equipment, and automobiles.
An EIN number is required if you intend to hire staff. You’ll have to make an educated guess at your taxes and make quarterly payments. This is critical, as the bulk of your income will come from harvest, which occurs only one month out of the year.
Growing Hops in New York
This program is designed to help hop growers. In addition to research and advice, educational videos and training are available through this service. The app is a lifesaver when it comes to making long-term plans.
You’ll need a 20-C license from the New York Department of Agriculture if you plan to grow cannabis in the state. The state also mandates the use of licensed facilities for the drying, grinding, pelletizing, and vacuum sealing procedures.
Although these rules may seem limiting, they spare small-scale farmers from the need to invest in expensive machinery. Small-scale farmers can get started with the product without having to invest a large sum of money in capital costs thanks to the need.
How much does it cost to start growing hops?
For ten acres, the estimated start-up expenditures are $200,000.
How much is an acre of hops worth?
It all depends on the geography and the market. To put it another way:
An acre of land can contain 1,200 plants
One to two kilos of dry product can be produced by every one of these little plants.
A pound of meat can sell for anywhere from $3 to $15, depending on market conditions.
You might expect to earn anywhere from $3,600 to $18,000 per acre at a price of one pound per plant.
How many acres of hops are profitable?
Even if you sell one acre for $18,000, your first year’s earnings may be as little as $1,000 per acre.
This is because the trellis system and other farm equipment are expensive. It’s also possible that your plants haven’t yet reached their full potential when you begin harvesting at a young age.
More trellises you need the more acres you have. However, the equipment requirements do not alter.
How many acres do you need to grow hops?
A 2020 Cornell research estimates that starting a new farm will cost between $12,000 and $15,000 per acre.
No matter how many acres you have, you should be able to make between $12,000-15,000 per acre.
There is a correlation between the age of a plant’s equipment and its profitability. In order to keep the farm running at full capacity, careful planning is required.
Hop Yard Basics
You can grow hops if you know how to farm or garden. Those hops can meet a demand that extends beyond your own homebrewing hobby, given the rise in the number of craft breweries and homebrewers and the growing interest in locally produced components.
Boyd’s Bottom Hops & Wildlife in Lexington, Kentucky, is managed by Mark Maikkula, vice president of the Kentucky Hop Growers Alliance. He advises, “Do your research and know your costs.” In spite of their robust nature, hops require a lot of time and effort to grow.
Maikkula emphasizes the importance of location selection. According to Ruhstaller Brewery’s founder and owner Jan-Erik Paino (who is also the owner of Ruhstaller Farm and Yard, which is an adjacent hop yard), $15,000 for an acre of hops is an accurate investment estimate.
Keep in mind that hop bines—not that’s a typo: Research at Rutgers University discovered that a 10-foot trellis can be sufficient while also allowing for easier hand harvesting of hops, which are technically bines, rather than vines, as they grow around a support structure in a helix. In the beginning, most of the money is going to be spent on the construction of the trellises that will hold the bines in place. Besides these support systems, hops require direct sunlight and well-drained soil in a wind-protected environment, as well
Planting And Training Hops
The bines of hops, a perennial plant, are harvested each year. Hop plants are dimorphic, with males and females existing side by side, but only the females bear the hop cone flowers. The aromatic oils and resins known as lupulin are found in these cones, and they are what give beer its distinct characteristics.
It is possible to buy hop rhizomes online or in brewing-supply stores between March and May. As soon as the soil is workable, although it’s better to wait until after the last frost before planting. Two rhizomes should be planted in each hill and the hills should be spaced 2 to 3 feet apart.
Paino warns against growing hops on a small scale. Late June and early July are the most critical times for their care.”
You’ll need to train the hops throughout the early summer period he’s speaking to. Shoots are ready to train when they reach a height of 1 to 2 feet. Baling twine can be used to build a trellis if you’ve been taught how to do so. Ten to fifteen feet of twine should be strung across the row. Stave the base of your plants down with a piece of twine before moving on to your next plant. Once you’ve chosen the best vines, you’ll need to string them up the trellis.
Paino says, “We’ve learnt that more isn’t always better.” Their initial plan was to choose up to a dozen bines, but they’ve since determined that only two offer the best results. As a result, he recommends a ratio of 80 percent hop cones to 20 percent leaves in the final product.
Wrap the twine around the trellis candidates in the clockwise direction. To avoid tangles, remove any residual bines and continue to do so throughout the growing season. Once the vines have climbed the trellis and produced side branches, the lower 2 to 3 feet of leaves can be trimmed to increase airflow and reduce disease concerns.
A lot of water is needed for hops. As a result of damp foliage, a drip watering system is perfect. At the Ruhstaller Farm & Yard, Paino claims that the farm uses drip irrigation at a rate of 1 gallon per hour to grow hops. Only one 12-hour cycle per week is used in April and May. In June, the number of cycles per week grows to two, and in July and August, the number of cycles per week climbs to three. For small-scale production, established plants require around 112 inches of water per week and a soil pH between 6 and 7 to thrive.
Brewers in the United States prefer a blend of alpha and aroma hops that give bittering and aroma characteristics, as well as a distinct flavor and aroma. Cascade, Chinook, Centennial, Crystal, CTZ, Triple Pearl, Cashmere, Willamette, Tahoma, and Yakima Gold are among the most popular hop cultivars in the United States, according to the Hop Growers of America.
Few cones will be produced in the first year, since the crown and root system are getting accustomed.
According to Paino, “It takes three years to reach full output.”
Most farmers expect to produce 10% of their crop in their first year, 50% during their second, and 100% during their last year of operation. Established bines can yield 1 to 2 pounds of wet hops every season after two to three seasons of growth. A common ingredient in brewing, wet hops require immediate use because they must be used within 24 hours of harvest. At harvest, dry hops are typically four times lighter than wet hops.) Between mid-August and mid-September before the first frost, harvest period is most common.
A dry and delicate hop cone is ready for harvesting. When squeezed, the cone releases a pleasant fragrance and returns to its former shape. Hand-picking the hop cones is an alternative method for harvesting a small crop of hops, however cutting the bines when most of the cones are mature is preferable.
Drying and Storing Hops
To avoid deterioration, hop cones must be dried before being stored. The best way to dry the cones is to spread them out on a window screen and let them air dry. Avoid direct sunlight and rotate the hop cone every day until they are dry. Temperatures should not exceed 140 degrees Fahrenheit when using a food dehydrator or oven. When the hop’s inner stem gets brittle, you know it’s dry. If you look closely, you’ll see a yellow powder that’s readily separated from the cone.
When storing your hops, it’s crucial to preserve them from moisture, air, and heat, which can diminish their quality and freshness. Sealable plastic bags in the refrigerator or freezer are perfect for long-term storage, especially if the air is removed with a vacuum sealer. With this method, Paino claims that a pound of hops might endure for two years. Drying hops in a kiln is a necessity for larger harvests that use mechanized harvesting processes. Afterward, the hops are rolled into bales and kept for up to a year.
Marketing And Selling Hops
Small breweries and homebrewers that are interested in experimenting with hop types can be a good target market for small-scale hop sales in your area. Prices of hops have risen sharply in recent years as a result of an increase in worldwide demand. Hops can cost anywhere from $8 to $20 per pound, depending on the kind.
Hops aren’t a popular item at farmers markets, so simply displaying your harvest is unlikely to bring in enough sales to pay your costs. Identifying yourself as a hop farmer in your area is the first step in reaching out to prospective customers. Be sure to stop by breweries and brewing supply stores in your area. Get in touch with your local homebrewer’s association. In addition to promoting the fact that you have hops on hand, this will allow you to determine local demands and adapt your hop crop to meet them.
When it comes to the majority of hops, Jan-Erik Paino, founder of Ruhstaller Brewery in Sacramento, Calif., says that they can also be utilized to help people relax and go asleep. Leaves from chamomile plants have long been used as a sleep aid, both in hot baths and in sachets placed near the pillow.
If you’re looking for a hard yet rewarding crop, hops could be the one for you. However, Maikkula enjoys networking with other professionals in the field, as well as consumers, and is eager to learn from them.
It’s rewarding to create a new product and sell it to local beer enthusiasts, he tells me.