Economics of Growing Beer Hops in Southwest Michigan

Final Report for FNC08-720

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2008: $5,995.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information

Summary:

PROJECT BACKGROUND
Farm Description: Total acres are 18 acres in farm ground. The acres are in three small parcels that larger farm equipment cannot get into easily. I presently have 1-1/2 acre set up with the trellis system for the hops. As the yield increases and income provides I’ll expand as the market demands. The remaining acreage is planted with a hay crop providing hay, at a small fee, for local 4-H individuals needing it for their livestock and horse projects.

I’ve been using the hay as a cover crop on about eight acres starting ten years ago. I then purchased additional adjoining parcels which added to my total. As I did I seeded the parcels to hay allowing for reseeding as a reduction in yield was seen. I decided to start the hops project with the 1-1/2 acre parcel that was best suited for the crop. It was also located close to a shallow well that was available for irrigation.

Being retired allows me to keep on top of weed and insect control.

PROJECT DESCRIPTION
Goals:
* To produce a crop and product that was once raised in Michigan close to 100 years ago.
* Research and develop a local market for the finish product.
* Introduce local supplier to the needs for the hops and what is involved to get the high quality finish goods to market.

Process:
* I researched the web on the requirements for growing hops also the market for the product once produced.

* Initial market research showed a demand but the need still remained to make inroads for the product. In some areas of the country there are co-op type companies formed to handle the final product. Because of my location from these companies I choose to handle my own marketing. (The first year the roots are establishing themselves, second year about a half a crop can be expected, with a full crop the third year).

* Getting the hop yard established took a number of man hours. This is best done prior to the first planting. The digging of post holes, setting poles, stringing and fastening cables takes time.

* Rhizomes are best planted in early spring so it’s best to get the hop yard completed in the fall prior to planting. The cash outlay for the trellis system will be a big expense, because you want the cables to run the distance of the yard.

* I ordered the rhizomes in February for planting the middle of April (South Western Michigan). The varieties that I ordered were what a local home brew supplier recommended for best sellers through his store.

* The first summer I watered the plants by hand. I figured that I would be able to keep up watering with a 300 gallon tank pulled behind my tractor with a DC pump and hose. This became a time consuming chore, especially during the dry months of July & August. I was able to get the drip irrigation established for the second year.

* The small partial harvest from the first year was given to home brewers who meet once a month to discuss their home brewing problems etc.

* I froze this year’s harvest to deliver to micro brewers to aid in starting the introduction for my locally-grown product.

PEOPLE
* Dan Rajzer – Cass County Extension Director – Was great for giving me direction on resources to contact. A lot of times he contacted them directly because he wanted to learn additional information on the hops etc.

* Dr. Robert Sirrine – Leelanau County Extension Director – Located in the middle part of the state in a Horticulture area of the state, Rob has worked with “Old Mission Hops”. Old Mission started their yard a couple of years prior to me. Their operation consists of around 30 total acres with a process center running. Besides attending a couple of seminars they sponsored, Rob was helpful answering after the fact questions via email.

* Old Mission Hops – www.oldmissionhops.com — Were supportive and helped answer some basic questions when they had the time.
* Steve Vojtko – Manager of Eau Claire Fruit Exchange – Works with the horticulture area of South West Michigan supplying products for the fruit and vegetable farmers. Steve sees hops as a commodity that will fit into some of the smaller farmers’ operations.

* Dr. Ron Godin – Colorado State University – source for how small plots etc. were getting started in Colorado. Ron is working with area growers on a harvester for small operations.

* Larry Echler – area horticulture farmer growing a large variety of vegetables for his farm stand and other outlets. Larry has a wealth of knowledge on feeding the plants through drip irrigation. He has a number of greenhouses where he starts plants from seeds.

* A lot of help was received from my sons, neighbors, and friends. These were people who wanted to help with labor in whatever way they could.

RESULTS
The trellis system for the first year was constructed at a height of 10 feet using 14 foot poles buried 3-1/2 feet deep. I decided to go this way because of the equipment required to reach the tops of the 20 foot high trellis. It didn’t bother the crop the first year because the hops are constructing their root system the first year. Additional research and visiting other hop farms soon convinced me that I needed to extend my trellis system up to the 20 foot level. The hop bines do not produce any measurable amount of hops the bottom 2 to 3 feet of the bine. Therefore on a 10 foot trellis system you are only getting a crop from 6 feet of growth. A hop bine will continue to grow vertically until it runs out of twine or reaches its growth height.

Last fall and early this spring I changed my trellis system to the 20 foot height. The bines that developed and grew steady last year did tremendously well on the 20 foot trellis. I constructed a scaffold system on a farm wagon that is 12 feet to the platform with rails at the 15 foot height. It requires a second person to drive the tractor through the field while I ride and tie the twine on the wires or complete whatever other work is required.

The first year started with 50 of 6 different varieties of hop rhizomes (300 total). I started them in pots in a greenhouse so I could watch them closely. I had only 70 of the potted rhizomes that sprouted. These were planted in the spring of 2009. Conversations with the supplier and a couple of other growers indicated similar problems starting the plants. This spring I acquired an additional 180 rhizomes. These I planted directly in the hop yard. Results were better with around 100 of the rhizomes growing.

This next year I will use my own plants to transplant rhizomes from. By using my own stock, I will cut down on expenses as I continue to expand the hop yard.

Production this year yielded around 500 ounces of hops, 7.14 ounces per plant. This is falling close to with what’s expected for yield the second year. Under full potential (third year) one can expect around 16 ounces per plant.

Next year I will side dress some of the required fertilizer needed by the plants prior to when the drip irrigation and feeding takes place. This will insure that the plants have the nutrients available when they need it for growth and the start of the hop buds.

DISCUSSION
When starting something new for the area I needed to visit a few more operations and ask a few more why not questions. It might have been that someone was thinking the same way that I was but had a better reason for not trying it.

My research was in depth and my direction of heading on the project was right. The initial trellis height systems of 10 feet seem to have more pluses then the 20 foot system. I couldn’t visualize how I would ever work a 20 foot high trellis system. It wasn’t until I worked the 10 foot high trellis that the ideas took place to handle the 20 foot trellis.

Some of the disadvantages of implementing a project such as this is the need to develop a market for the product. For someone not into marketing it can be a struggle but also a learning adventure. The advantage of going ahead with this project is I’m ahead of the curve for the demand. With the number of home brewers on the increase and an increase of micro brewers the demand for locally grown hops will do nothing but increase in the next couple of years.

This is definitely a total project experience. There wasn’t any co-op available for product start up needs or mill / distribution center available to take your product too.

I have no need not to help anyone else out who is interested in getting started in the hops or another type of production in their area of the country.

OUTREACH
My main method of telling others was through our web site (www.michianahops.com) and word of mouth. Neighbors, local farmers, county extension, and co-op were supportive in directing interested people to me for explanation, encouragement and direction to start their hops yard. Some of the people saw that the hops would interfere with one of their existing fruits or vegetables.

I did not have a planned field day. The county extension agent who was to help was off with a heart bypass operation at the time. This is something I’m planning to go forward with this next year.

Research

Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.