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Old 02-25-2013, 11:13 PM   #1
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Default growing hops

I plan on growing an acre of hops this year, I'm not a home brewer but I am a farmer looking for a niche commodity. I've done all my research and have ordered my hops rhizomes, I have 500 acres of corn and beans at the moment and I'm going to start at an acre of hops and if its profitable I'll expand. My questions are, who should appeal to at first for sales, the home brewer, small breweries, supply companies, etc? Do most home brewers prefer dry hops or fresh? How much does the average home brewer buy a year? Is there an organic demand? Any insight on any of these questions would be greatly appreciated, thanks.

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Old 02-26-2013, 12:08 AM   #2
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It will take 2-3 years for them to develop the bittering qualities and your yields will also be low. But after that your crops should sell.
First of all I would approach a local brewpub to see if there would be any interest. that could get publicity for both of you and generate some local interest. A local homebrew club might also be a good place to sell some.
There is no "average" homebrewer, some of us brew vast amounts, some 3 or 4 batches per year. Personally, I probably go through about 10-15 pounds of hops each year, but I also use a wide variety of different hops. What kind are you planting? where are you? That will also be critical for the quality of your hops.

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Old 02-26-2013, 12:30 AM   #3
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I'm growing half centennial and half cascade in northern Illinois. I expect poor yields the first two years but with what I do harvest is it usable to brewers or should I discard it? What hops do you normally use? Do you grow your own?

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Old 02-26-2013, 04:36 AM   #4
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I do grow Cascades, but we're in the 3rd year of a serious drought and my total harvest the past 2 years would barely fill a coffee cup. The hops I buy are mostly European strains, but I'm kind of an oddball in homebrewing circles. Cascade and Centennial are very popular with American homebrewers so once they're established you'll have people fighting over them.
Your hops may be sellable as flavor and aroma hops until the AA's develop enough to be used for bittering. Somebody local may want them for a "fresh hop" ale brewed as soon as the hops are harvested.

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Old 02-26-2013, 06:12 AM   #5
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Hey thanks a lot for the insight, I appreciate all the help I can get

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Old 02-26-2013, 05:00 PM   #6
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First year, expect 100 lb or less. Second year, you should be able to push that acre to 500 lb. By third/fourth year, expect full harvest if you've been doing your irrigation, nutrient schedule, pruning, pest management and weeding correctly. Budget 20 hrs/week from May - August for the first two years for pulling weeds, watering and chasing bugs.

How do brewer's want their hops? It depends. I'm up in Madison and we sell nearly everything dried and pelletized because its what the brewers in WI, MN, IL and IN are demanding. In MI, there are a few brewers that prefer whole cone. All over, there are various brewers who will take wet, whole cone for harvest beers. If you can sell them wet, that is awesome but there is a lot of controversy over what the price should be and a lot of logistical problems coordinating the harvest and brew. From the point they are picked, you need to get them in the kettle within a few hours.

That said, I make all my growers at least dry a portion of their harvest the first 2 years and calculate moisture content. Its a lot trickier then you would think. My experience is that most growers will screw up the drying process (and lose the entire crop) at least 2 times in the first 4 years. I prefer that happens the first two rather than the 4th when they are trying to finally break even.

Who should be your market? Selling direct to homebrewers is awesome but making 1 oz packages sucks and its hard to maintain those customers since so many people brew for a year or two and then move on to the next hobby. If you sell through brew shops, you will get less than 50% of the final sale price even though your costs are about the same.

Your best bet is linking up with a local brewer, developing a good relationship and being open with your plans and projected harvest. They have to trust you and believe that you could become a reliable source of hops for their business. This means delivering it in the final form they dictate and probably getting the lab work done to give them at least alpha acids and oil.

Organic? Nice thought but it doesn't pan out economically. With organic production, you have a 50% reduction in harvest due to nutrient deficiency. Hops need an incredible amount of nitrogen in a very short window and organic just can't do it. Unfortunately, we've only seen a 10% boost in price for organic hops. We thought with the change in the law, that would increase but it still hasn't happened. I can't explain that. All I can tell you is that harvesting 750 lb instead of 1500 lbs from an acre but only getting 10% more doesn't keep you viable for very long.

Just a few more tidbits...

  • $10k for trellis, rhizomes, irrigation
  • yes, put in irrigation or you can add 10 hr/week just for watering
  • don't forget a well if you don't have one
  • don't forget to build an oast for drying. your grain dryer will just cook the hops
  • look into mechanical harvest by year 3. To pick by hand is around 45 minutes/bine. That means 750 labor hours to be completed in a 5 to 10 day window.
  • amend the soil and build the trellis first. Putting rhizomes in the ground should be last. You are all ready to late to put a field in for this year, unless your trellis is in and rhizomes are on the way. So take the year to plan it out correctly.

Best of luck to you. I'm not trying to dissuade you, just laying out the facts. We do courses on hop growing about twice a year and usually 90% of the attendees leave deciding they don't want to do it. Of the remaining 10%, less than half will follow through and put rhizomes in the ground.
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Old 02-27-2013, 03:29 AM   #7
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Dan, I spent over $100 in books to study growing hops and I feel I got more information from just your post, that being said, I appreciate the informative advice. My rhizomes are ordered but I haven't been able to work the ground yet until it thaws. I'm near beloit so maybe next time you have a seminar you could let me know? Thanks.

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Old 02-27-2013, 04:35 AM   #8
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Trust me, there are books on growing hops for the home garden, there are books for growing 300 acres at a pop (but only recent if you speak Czech) but there is nothing for the 1 to 10 acre grower. And there is no book that can teach you as much as doing it yourself...and making every mistake possible.
I'll PM you about the next workshops but it probably won't be until late fall, after harvest. The busy time starts in a couple weeks.

If rhizomes are arriving, you can't really hold on to them for too long. At this point, amend your soil, drill the holes for the poles and then plant the rhizomes. You want the holes drilled so you don't dig anything up when you drop the poles. Get them in the ground ASAP, so you don't kill too many plants driving over them to get the poles in. Then run the wire and drop the twine so they can climb. Make sure you water and fertilize or you will actually set yourself back a year or two because the energy stored in the rhizome won't turn into an appropriately sized crown.

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Old 02-27-2013, 10:09 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GVH_Dan
Trust me, there are books on growing hops for the home garden, there are books for growing 300 acres at a pop (but only recent if you speak Czech) but there is nothing for the 1 to 10 acre grower. And there is no book that can teach you as much as doing it yourself...and making every mistake possible.
I'll PM you about the next workshops but it probably won't be until late fall, after harvest. The busy time starts in a couple weeks.

If rhizomes are arriving, you can't really hold on to them for too long. At this point, amend your soil, drill the holes for the poles and then plant the rhizomes. You want the holes drilled so you don't dig anything up when you drop the poles. Get them in the ground ASAP, so you don't kill too many plants driving over them to get the poles in. Then run the wire and drop the twine so they can climb. Make sure you water and fertilize or you will actually set yourself back a year or two because the energy stored in the rhizome won't turn into an appropriately sized crown.
Books will never do it justice. Original thought was its not a large investment for what the return can be. Then you start buying things to make it all come together properly. Before you know it, 10-15,000 later u almost have a field up and running. And the hard work hasn't even started. Good luck man!!!! Hop season is on the horizon
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Old 02-28-2013, 03:32 AM   #10
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Hey big thanks to everyone for a helpful word and some encouragement, I know ill make mistakes at first but I've never given up on anything and I'll make a go of this.

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