Hopping on Hops: Technical Assistance and Peer-to-Peer Mentorship to Support West Virginia Hops Growers

Progress report for ONE21-400

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2021: $29,999.00
Projected End Date: 07/31/2024
Grant Recipient: West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition
Region: Northeast
State: West Virginia
Project Leader:
Spencer Moss
West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition
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Project Information

Project Objectives:

This project seeks to catalyze nascent West Virginia-based hops growers collective by providing technical assistance and peer to peer mentorship to determine which of six market-demanded hops varieties are most suitable in West Virginia’s climate and develop the collective's overall capability to market their hops products. 

 

Objective 1) Provide technical assistance and peer to peer mentorship to determine which of six market-demanded hops varieties, Cashmere, Centennial, Triumph, Saaz 72, Comet, and Zeus, are most suitable in West Virginia’s climate. 

Discovery: Identify the varieties that yield the best production by collecting data regarding a) Pest and disease pressure b) Yield c) Variety quality/profile.

 

Objective 2) Provide technical assistance in order to facilitate cooperative marketing of hops amongst participating and future farmers 

Discovery: By developing relationships amongst hops producers and buyers this project will create a collective marketing strategy to increase the amount of hops product grown in West Virginia that is utilized in craft brewing. 

Farmer Impact: This project will produce a toolkit with specific data collected by the participating farmers, which will both mitigate risk for future producers and inform craft beverage makers about the hops that they can feasibly source in West Virginia. 

Introduction:

West Virginia’s rolling rocky mountainous terrain and deep hollows between peaks trends agriculture towards diversified, small-scale farms. Physical geographical and topographic limitations that encourage crop diversity also requires that farmers work together collaboratively to meet demands of varied market sectors. It is becoming more common for producers to form cooperatives or growing groups and the Coalition is trying to encourage this with regards to hops production within the state. By assisting producers in diversifying into stable markets we aid in increasing farm profit, allowing them to live more equitably and expand sustainable farming efforts. This will allow for improvements to be made to farms and facilities, in turn improving the quality of life for individuals and communities.

 The Craft beverage industry made an entrance into West Virginia in the mid 2000’s and is proving to be a stable industry. The emergence and stability of this industry have provided farmers with new market opportunities to produce honey, stone fruits, herbs, grains, and hops. Freefolk Brewery, for example, currently procures 2,600 pounds of hops annually. Two acres of hops are needed to serve this brewery. If small-scale producers produced .25 acres of hops, it would increase revenue by approximately $4,600-$8,600 per producer. 

Due to the growth in the craft beverage industry, supported by the growing tourism industry, and community partners, such as the Coalition and Robert C. Byrd Institute, there is a real vocalized need for West Virginia grown hops. The Robert C. Byrd Institute has been supporting “Farm to Bottle” for several years, and the need for more farm products is expressed by craft beverage manufacturers at every event. 

Farmers are working to establish a network of hops growers to provide for this market demand. This project will support these efforts through technical assistance and peer to peer mentorship as four growers help determine which of six market-demanded varieties of hops provide the best yields while also working together to establish a market plan for hops in the state. This project will build on past studies on the viability of commercial hops production within the state by expanding the varietal research which will aid in mitigating risk for future producers. The previous study, ‘Specialty Hops In West Virginia’ (Martel, 2017), was conducted by West Virginia State University. This study showcased the viability of three hops varieties for commercial-scale growth. It established growers on a commercial scale.

 

 

Cooperators

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Research

Materials and methods:

Objective 1) Provide technical assistance and peer to peer mentorship to determine which of six market-demanded hops varieties, Cashmere, Centennial, Comet, Saaz 72, Triumph, and Zeus, are most suitable in West Virginia’s climate. 

Methodology - Technical assistance and peer to peer mentorship; Production Quantitative and Qualitative Data Collection

Prior to project commencement, The Coalition and technical assistance providers will determine growing techniques for each variety to be tested and create a best practices guide for participants.

The Coalition will facilitate a workshop amongst the farmer-participants on project installation and growing techniques with regards to each variety with regional hops growers.  Throughout the life of this project, The Coalition will retain at least one direct production technical assistance advisor.  

The Coalition will facilitate quarterly peer-to-peer meet-ups amongst project participants.  These quarterly meetings will be opportunities to deposit data, coordinate with peers, and develop marketing strategies. 

Technical assistance providers will also attend these to hear and respond to larger production concerns.  

In order to determine the most suitable hops varieties, project participants will be provided data collection sheets (see attached) in order to collect data related to production amounts and perceived ease of growth and production management.  Participants will be instructed on the frequency of online submission, which varies seasonally but will be required at least quarterly.  

Measurement: Hops varieties will be viewed as successful if it demonstrates high yield and qualities that are desirable to the market as determined by partnering craft breweries as well as perceived as easy for production management.  

 

Objective 2) Provide technical assistance in order to facilitate cooperative marketing of hops amongst participating and future farmers 

Methodology: The Coalition will facilitate quarterly meetings amongst program participants and other producers who wish to join the hops growers collective. During the quarterly meetings, the Coalition will facilitate the development of a collective marketing strategy. This strategy will be determined by program participants through a participatory process. The Coalition believes that in order to catalyze the cohesive development of the West Virginia Hops Growers Collective, the Collective must buy-in and feel ownership of the work. The Coalition will bring in resources to conduct the work. This includes buy/grower mixers, cooperative development trainers, moderated panel discussion, etc. 

Measurement: Five craft brewers will purchase 15% more of their hops from West Virginia farmers. 

 

Research results and discussion:

N/a 

Research conclusions:

N/A

Participation Summary
4 Farmers participating in research

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

4 Consultations
4 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
4 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary:

8 Farmers
Education/outreach description:

Hops Trial Soil Sampling

Hops Trellising

Schmidt Farm - Best Practices

Co-op Model & Development Process December 2021

August 2021-January 2022:

Consultations: The four producers were consulted by Schmidt's Farm regarding hop yard locations and hop yard design layout.

Curricula, factsheets, and educational tools: Four power point presentations were created and shared with the producers on soil sample analysis and interpretation, best growing practices for hop production, trellising designs, and cooperative formation.

Webinars, talks, and presentations: Four virtual presentations were hosted by West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition on soil sample analysis and interpretation, best growing practices for hop production, trellising designs, and cooperative formation. There were question and answer segments for all four virtual presentations. One to 8 participants joined for each presentation.

In progress for 2022: Four on site hands on workshops will be held for hop trellis installation. Three virtual presentations will be hosted on the subjects of pest and disease management, data collection protocols and expectations, and the drying and handling of hop cones. The group will continue to be supporting in the formation of a cooperative through connection with expert technical assistance and facilitation of meetings.

Proposal:

General Outreach to Hops Growers Collective Events 

The Robert C. Byrd Institute, a Coalition partner,  hosts Craft: Farm to Bottle Summits multiple times throughout the state every year. An average 10 farmers, eight craft beverage industry leaders, and three service providers are in attendance at each summit. The Coalition helps to coordinate these events and will use these events as opportunities to share project updates and disseminate the results. The Coalition will utilize its extensive network to make sure that these events are well attended and there is time in the agenda to share project updates. 

Conference Presentation

The Coalition, together with West Virginia University Extension Agent, Jeremy Moore will deliver a presentation of the results during the annual West Virginia Small Farms Conference, which is attended by over 500 farmers and agricultural service providers. 

Publish Tool-Kit - As part of the project, the Coalition, together with West Virginia University Extension Agent, Jeremy Moore will develop a tool-kit that details the results of the project that also includes 1) Best practices for growing hops in West Virginia 2) Details on the Hops Growers Collective, 3) the marketing strategy that other farmers can participate in. This toolkit will be available for attendees at the Small Farms Conference and permanently available on the Coalition’s website. 

 

Learning Outcomes

4 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key areas in which farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness:

From the workshops that have already been held, participants have learned the following skills: 

  1. Trellising requirements for hops.
  2. Fertilization and water requirements for hops.

Project Outcomes

4 Grants applied for that built upon this project
1 Grant received that built upon this project
$29,999.00 Dollar amount of grant received that built upon this project
4 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

It's still early in the project to talk about changes in practices or behaviors, however, there are some updates to be shared. The participants have been meeting regularly and discussing all of the details of their cooperative development. They've also met with the Ohio State University's Cooperative Development Center. Additionally, getting equipment from other grants will likely help to catalyze this group. 

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.