Meeting the Needs of the Michigan Craft Brewing Industry: The Potential of Barley and Hops As Alternative Crops

Project Overview

FNC02-418
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2002: $9,357.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $11,975.00
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:

Commodities

  • Agronomic: barley, hops

Practices

  • Education and Training: networking, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, market study, value added
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities

    Summary:

    PROJECT BACKGROUND
    This project was undertaken by a working group of growers that included producers operating a variety of conventional and organic operations. A total of five growers participated in the project. During the course of the project, a number of other growers became involved as collaborators, but did not receive funds as a result of their participation. Of the growers participating:
    • Turnwald Farms operates a conventional diversified farm of 1000 acres in addition to raising hogs.
    • Graham Farms operates an organic farm which includes 1000 acres of cash crops, Black Angus cattle, turkeys, chickens, eggs, and a USDA inspected processing plant.
    • Simmons Farms and Roggenbuck Farms operate 500 acre certified organic farms producing grains and beans.
    • Morning Dew Farms consists of 27 acres producing primarily certified organic produce for the wholesale market.

    All of the participating growers could be described as family farms managed by their owner/operators. All of the participating growers were either long time organic producers or had been using no-till practices previously for some time.

    PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
    The goal of our project was to evaluate the production and market potential of barley and hops as alternative crops. The growing interest of Michigan craft brewers in obtaining identity preserved “Michigan grown” brewing ingredients formed the basis of this project.

    In specific, our goals included:

    1. Conduct field trials of several hop varieties to determine those varieties most suitable for our region. In addition, we hoped to gain a better understanding of the requirements of producing this highly specialized crop.
    CONCLUSION: Our hop trials have been very successful. We have identified a handful of varieties that have been dependable producers. Insect and disease problems have been minimal and have not appeared to interfere with yields. Small scale hop production (one acre) is relatively easy to get started. The key to expanding would be the addition of small-scale mechanical “pickers” that are tricky to locate. Current plans include an expansion of our hop yards with an eye towards supplying home brewers via the internet, as well as the production of a “Michigan grown” beer.

    2. Conduct field trials of selected varieties of malting barley to determine whether our region could produce a consistent supply of malting quality barley.
    CONCLUSION: The success of our project rested on whether our climate was suitable for producing quality barley. Our premise when we began this project was that the reason malting barley was not being grown in our area had more to do with the consolidation of production and processing, and less to do with environmental concerns. This has proved to be quite true. We have and continue to produce a high quality product and participating growers have been successful in marketing it to established malt companies.

    3. To develop a pilot malting system as a value-added opportunity.
    CONCLUSION: We began by modifying a peanut dryer that allowed us to conduct preliminary trials. The finished malt was used at Mountain Town Station Brewing Co. and the results were very positive. A dedicated malt machine was then designed with the necessary improvements made and we spent more than a year putting it together. It involved approximately 30 suppliers and a dozen fabricators, plumbers, electricians, etc. While the process is based on established principles, the scale of our system required us to invent something totally new. At this writing we have just begun to work with our new DubFlex system and hope to be supplying breweries soon.

    PROCESS
    The decision to pursue this project arose out of conversations between farmers and brewers.
    Initial conversations led to a more in-depth analysis of market potential. It became clear that if we could supply the breweries, they were interested in buying our product. With the demand there it became much easier to consider undertaking this project (Market first!)

    The next step involved education and research to determine whether or not it was an opportunity worth pursuing. This involved online research, attending a short course on malting, traveling to Europe to visit other small scale operations and talking to countless people involved in the farming, malting and brewing industries. A plan was developed, a lab contracted to help with trials, and plans were made to develop a malting process. The trial progressed well and the scope of establishing a pilot system continued to expand. Time, more money, patience, hard work X3 and we got there.

    PEOPLE
    In addition to the five producers who began working on this, it has taken countless people to get it done. This project has involved farmers, brewers, local contractors, extension agents, university personnel, suppliers, friends, and family. One of the most enjoyable parts of participating in this project as project coordinator has been meeting so many people and getting to know them and watching them share our enthusiasm for the project. It has been a great community building and networking opportunity.

    RESULTS
    BIO_SYSTEMSinc. was contracted to conduct soil testing and analysis. After a baseline was established, recommendations were given to growers to use as they wished. Crop yields were measured quantitatively by bushel to the acre, while qualitative analysis was provided by Briess Malting Co. Our barley yields were consistent with growers in other regions: 50 bu/acre organic and 70 – 100 bu/acre conventional. Both the quality and quantity of our barley trials have exceeded expectations. Our hop trials have produced excellent quality hops but would require a commitment to a larger scale to be cost effective and commercially viable.

    DISCUSSION
    Receiving this grant provided us with an opportunity to focus our ideas and develop a concrete strategy to develop them. By joining together and making our endeavor into a formal project, it encouraged people to take an active role in not only this project, but also in the process of introducing new opportunities to their own operations. The more I speak to people now the more I find myself talking more and more about “el proceso” of being an entrepreneur. The funds that we received without a doubt made people more willing to try something new. With the grant providing seed money, it made it much easier to invest personal time and money. In short, I would say that the SARE grant program provided both an organizational and economic catalyst to develop what has become a viable market opportunity. I do have an extensive amount of information that I would be more than happy to share with other interested farmers. In much the same way that this project has focused on identity preservation (i.e. Michigan malt for Michigan brewers) there exists the same potential for similar strategies in several states. The northwest, upper Midwest, and northeast are all places that could – and I predict will – pursue a similar course.

    OUTREACH
    The most critical feature of project outreach has been the involvement of the project coordinator in both farm advocacy groups such as the organic growers of Michigan, Michigan Integrated Food and Farming Alliance, as well as brewing trade and technical groups such as the Michigan Brewers Guild and the Master Brewers of the Americas. A key to the success of this project has been facilitating a dialogue between producers and consumers. This has involved attendance at meetings of both groups. Altogether, more than two hundred people have been made aware of our project through these meetings. A workshop was also held with assistance from BIOSYSYTEMS for growers interested in value added enterprises. Twenty-five growers attended. Production and marketing packets have been put together for each crop and are available to interested growers. For current production and marketing information on hops see the ATTRA publication “Hops: Organic Production” at http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/hop.html or call ATTRA at 800-346-9140 for a free copy. Finally, there have been a number of media requests for interviews, both print and television that are coming together as we begin production.

    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.