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Home Brew Forums > Home Brewing Beer > Hops Growing > Has Anyone Started A Small Hop Farm And Actually Started Selling To Breweries?
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Old 04-29-2013, 05:41 PM   #1
jglazer
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Default Has Anyone Started A Small Hop Farm And Actually Started Selling To Breweries?

I follow the hop growing forum pretty regularly but I don't see a lot of info on whether or not people are becoming successful enough to start selling production to local breweries/hbs. I am interested to hear about any/all of the questions below.

Questions are:

1) How many rhizomes did you start out with?
2) Have you started selling to brewers or elsewhere?
3) How many years until you first started selling hops?
4) If you did start selling, how many plants/lbs of hops did it take before you had enough to sell to someone?
5) Are you profitable yet???


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Old 04-30-2013, 03:35 PM   #2
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Jeff...is this you? Assuming it is, you probably know my answers but I'll post here to get the ball rolling.

1.) 350-ish if I remember correctly. Maybe a couple hundred more. That seems like a lifetime ago.

2.) You bet.

3.) Technically year 2 for us...year 1 for any of our growers that actually produce something worth selling. We kept our year 1 crop to experiment on ourselves.

4.) Depending on the final form, it can be a fairly small number. Wet hop numbers for a specialty batch depends on the size of their brew kettle. Dry, whole cone will also sell in small batches if they are going to use them for dry hopping or other special purpose where alpha isn't as important. Once you are talking pelletized or whole cone where the brewer is going to use them as the sole hop for a significant number of runs, it will be 10's of pounds to over a hundred. Assuming your alpha is different than their other suppliers, they don't like taking the time to re-calculate alpha for every batch they brew.

That said, I would like to hear others answers as we skipped most of the whole cone options and jumped straight to pellets. I know others experiences have been different.

5.) Ha! It depends on who you ask...my wife or the accountant. Obviously, we've branched out into so many other areas, I'm not sure of the financials on just the hop yard.


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Old 04-30-2013, 05:18 PM   #3
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Nope not Jeff lol, I am John, fairly new to HomeBrewTalk so I don think anyone really knows me too well yet. I have some second year hops growing pretty well (only 5) and really love it. I am entertaining the idea of starting a small farm (in NY most likely), but I am more on the realistic side and am not one to jump into anything unless I have done an enormous amount of research first Although I have read just about every single piece of written word about growing hops, the best info still comes from people like you who have done it before and I hope this forum can draw out some realistic numbers for me and anyone else who is curious

Thanks Dan!
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Old 04-30-2013, 05:57 PM   #4
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Well, by the end of this year we will be able to provide some numbers as we have 150 on their second year. The real numbers will come next year as we will have 3rd year hops and the majority of what we planted this year will be in their 2nd year, with some going into their 3rd year due to being in pots last year.

I'll stay subscribed to this thread and update with any numbers I can supply.
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Old 04-30-2013, 06:38 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jglazer View Post
Nope not Jeff lol, I am John,
OK...then you wouldn't know me. Here in Madison there is guy named Jeff that does a lot of legal work for small breweries, farm co-ops and the like. Your questions are similar to ones he would ask.

Anyway, since you don't know, I'm part of Gorst Valley Hops out of Mazomanie, WI. We started like most but it was long enough ago that we were the only kids on the block. So to get any traction, we had to ramp up our numbers quickly and provide pelletized product that WI/Midwest brewers demand. So we went from 1/3 acre of our own to starting a partnership with 40+ other hop growers in the midwest so we could feed a pelletizer we bought. So we grew from our 1/3rd acre to well over 50 acres between us and our associates.

So the reason I can't answer #5 is because we have expanded to include a processing center, harvester manufacturing, dryer manufacturing, laboratory testing, etc. plus purchase a lot more land on our own.

That said, I can give you an answer. You are probably looking at 3-5 years to break even, if you do everything right. Figure $10k to put an acre in (yes you can skimp in some areas but other things tend to eat up the savings), 2 to 5k per year to grow. Then figure in your harvesting costs (either 750 labor hours or a mechanical harvester), a well if you need one, dryer, and then any processing costs (lab work, pelletizing if needed, packaging). But then if some of your poles snap off in a freak storm (happened), you have a looky-loo tourist run into your trellis (happened), you discover your artesian well wasn't sufficient and you have to dig a new one (happened) or you have a 500 year drought/heat wave that drops production to 20% of expected (last year)...well then add a year or two to that estimate.

Point is, this is NOT a get rich quick scheme. Nor is it an easy way to get rich. Hell, I'm not sure you could ever get "rich" at it. You really need to do it because you want to and you are passionate about it, sort of like homebrewing.
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Old 04-30-2013, 07:17 PM   #6
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HBers:
Just a WHOMA: Why not start a file which contains contact info and varieties of hops grown by, well, hop growers? A file similar to the bottle-trading file you have for beer and wine bottles. That way, we wouldn't have to depend on far-off growers, and, we could grow varieties which are not commercially profitable, but still of interest to, well, anyone interested. Growers in even a small area could grow all hundred varieties, and have a thriving local trade. A hop farmers mkt.
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Old 04-30-2013, 10:03 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jglazer
I follow the hop growing forum pretty regularly but I don't see a lot of info on whether or not people are becoming successful enough to start selling production to local breweries/hbs. I am interested to hear about any/all of the questions below.

Questions are:

1) How many rhizomes did you start out with?
2) Have you started selling to brewers or elsewhere?
3) How many years until you first started selling hops?
4) If you did start selling, how many plants/lbs of hops did it take before you had enough to sell to someone?
5) Are you profitable yet???
1) started with roughly 1800 plants last year. So only second year
2) brewery relationships started last year as well. So ill have buyers before a product ever goes to them
3)hoping this year!
4)keep u posted
5)hell no!!! Like dan said. Hoping by the end of next year to start paying off and take a paycheck!

Dan hit it on the head. Def not a get rich quick deal. U have to want to dedicate time. And hit as many different ave. as possible. Cant be lazy. And ill def have a full time job on top of this for the foreseeable future! Between this and possibly tapping into a small biodiesel plant could have a pretty interesting future!

Cheers
Dan
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Old 05-02-2013, 09:14 PM   #8
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My situation is unique and after speaking with a number of other hop farmers I realize how thankful I am.

I am a failed cranberry grower....it still stings a little but its true. I had just over 2 acres of my own and an acre of lease bog. The plan was to have a little for retirement when I leave my regular job. My bog was built by a less than honest contractor and it never held water, unable to flood is a bad thing in cranberries.

A neighbor suggested hops and I met with a local brewer ready to go pro. We came to an agreement and I am just finishing a nano on my property. I started with 35 crowns of varieties picked by him. So I had a market in place when I planted. Our first few months of sales had my Cascade in the IPA. My plan is to expand my 35 raised beds to 70 this year, then 105, then 140 total. I also grow sweet pumpkins and some berries.

The last couple of years I attended the Vermont Hop Conference. There I heard some horror stories from growers who had sunk the family savings into this venture, only to be turned away at local breweries. For that I am thankful for having a brewers input and a ready market.

The business plan of his works. Sales have been great and we are in the final phases of a 3 bbl system. So the bottom line is I started real small, selling to one guy (giving some away too) and it sure looks like it will work. My circumstances are exceptional but I think it could be duplicated.
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Old 05-02-2013, 10:29 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FrugalEndeavorsFarm View Post
The last couple of years I attended the Vermont Hop Conference. There I heard some horror stories from growers who had sunk the family savings into this venture, only to be turned away at local breweries.
Could you expand on this part? Why are the failing? From your statement, its sounds like they are producing hops, just not getting then sold. Are the brewer's demanding alpha/beta/oil/etc. testing that they can't provide? Are the brewer's demanding pellets or plugs? Is the price too high?

I ask because this is an important aspect that is often overlooked. 5 years ago, brewer's would purchase whatever they could get their hands on just to have the "local" label on their beer. I'm finding that isn't always the case any more. Some demand testing be performed. Some demand certain quality standards be met. Some demand it in one form or another and packaged in their preferred method. Some will walk away if the price isn't the current spot market price.

Our philosophy is there is probably no way we can ever compete on price...so we have to remove all the other barriers and provide a better product. Its not easy and we don't make every sale because of the price issue. So we know there is a limit to our growth, but we're just not sure what that limit is because we are far from producing enough to keep even our current customers orders filled.

Then there's the "organic" issue. I'm not looking to get into the philosophical debate of what is better. I'm just curious how many of those failed growers were trying to go organic? In our experiments, at best an organic hop plant could only produce 1/2 of what other plants produced. Yet even with the change in laws, we are only seeing a 10% to 20% premium for organic hops. Its hard to make an economic justification for organic.
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Old 05-02-2013, 11:16 PM   #10
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The general consensus seems to be the failure to establish a relationship with a brewer or brewery. Several people, including a speaker from Canada, had gone into the project rather blind I think.

Failure to have testing done was a specific issue, but that ties in to being an unknown variable in a brewers established recipe. The gentleman from Canada told us he travelled in a 50 mile radius of his farm to a number of breweries and was turned away. He seemed to feel that the brewers felt he was an unknown and unproven, which he was.

Part of the reason I posted a response was to encourage the grower/brewer relationship. I lucked out, truly. I planted one variety on my own, Zeus, cause I liked its qualities. My brewer doesn't use it, nor is it on his list of things to do as we get underway. But he picked 5 he uses, so thats what I planted. I would suspect with some shoe leather burned, some favors called in, and some luck a new grower could approach a brewer and offer to grow what he/she wanted and maybe have a market started.

Vermont brewers also spoke at the conference expressing concerns on handling procedures. People who had the opportunity to get some face time dropped the ball with handling.

I never really questioned the organic or not issue. I recall one or two were going organic on farms already using those practices. Peak Organic Brewing in Maine did reach out to the event organizers hoping to establish relatioships with organic growers. Not being one I never followed the story to see how it worked out.


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