Economics of Growing Beer Hops in Southwest Michigan
I continued working on my research about hops through attending a sustainable hops production workshop in January 2009 sponsored by the MSUE (Michigan State University Extension) in Traverse City, MI. With the information provided I worked with our local extension agents, Dan Rajzer and Ron Goldy to insure that I was preparing the soil properly for the hop rhizomes.
Continuing market research is being done and is important as production increases for the 2010 product.
I worked with our local coop’s manager Steve Vojtko to insure that I had the fertilizer and supplies needed for the trellis system at the proper time. I purchased the rhizomes from a well know supplier for delivery by early spring. To insure a healthy start, I rented a greenhouse to start the rhizomes in flower pots.
The rhizomes purchased along with the supplies allowed me to establish an acre of hops of six (6) different varieties. The investment for this acre totaled $5,202.25. Close to half of the expenses will allow for expanding my hops yard by another acre thus lowering my per acre cost for 2010.
The breakdowns of the expenses were: Hops & supplies = $2,834.14, Rentals & Labor = 730.00, Workshops, travel, & misc = $664.97 and Equipment / well repairs = $973.14.
As proposed in the grant funds budget, the $2,997.65 helped defray the above cost and allowed me to use my funds to order supplies for this next year.
A great deal of time was spent with continuous research on the growing of the hops (fertilizing, insect control, and irrigation) and the marketing of the product (interested brewers). This was accomplished while the hops were being started in our first hops yard. We acquired enough rhizomes (500 hop roots) to put in an acre of hops. To insure a good healthy start I started them in flower pots in a greenhouse. This added to their protection from the elements of weather and raccoons digging up the newly planted rhizomes.
The young plants were fertilized and watered when needed. The first year of growth is mainly to develop the root system of the plants. One can expect a 50% yield the second year and a full yield the third year.
I started out with 80 rhizomes of each of the six (6) varieties potted and started in a greenhouse environment. Following is a chart showing the results.
Variety, Planted , Survivors, %
Chinook, 80, 60, 75
Cascade, 75, 53, 71
Galena, 60, 10, 17
Sterling, 60, 18, 30
Willamette, 70, 32, 46
Mt Hood, 70, 45, 64
I had good growth with the Chinook and Cascade variety. They grew aggressively especially when I provided twine (trellis system) for them to continue their growth. I did have a least a dozen plants of each of the two varieties that produced 2 to 3 ounces of hops each. The remaining plants were mainly foliage which is needed to establish the roots for the 2010 season.
Poor results on the remaining varieties can be contributed to a number of possibilities. Moving them from the greenhouse could have been a shock to them. Some of the plants showed signs of heat stress. Conversation with other growers from Northern Michigan showed similar survivor problems. Contacting the supplier he did admit that because of the large demand for rhizomes they were shipping smaller rhizomes to fill orders. My thoughts are that the smaller root stock wasn’t able to supply the nutrients required by the plant for its fast growth.
I am pleased with the crop that I got this year and have learned that I need to let Mother Nature help with the starting of the rhizomes. Perhaps if I started them in the hop yard vs. the greenhouse my survival percentage would have been higher.
The way that hops produce, (nothing the first year, 50% the second and a full crop the third) provides a new grower with a growth curve and time to learn from their first and second year’s growth prior to full production.
WORK PLAN FOR 2010
My plans for this next year is to add an additional acre of rhizomes and to fill in where the plants didn’t make it the first year. My expansion will be with the rhizomes varieties Chinook and Cascade. This will give me product that will be ready for market sooner. This will help me to defray some of my operating cost and for additional expansion in two and three years from now.
Harvesting method will need to be an area of focus for 2010. This year will allow me to try a method that Colorado University is working with for small acreage. If I’m satisfied with it then it’ll be ready for full production in 2011.
Drip irrigation will be expanded for the additional acre. I plan on seeding between the rows with some type of clover or grass to reduce the amount of mowing and also help with weed control.
I’ve started working with our local SCORE business Counselors to develop my business plan. This plan will help me with my marketing along with keeping me focused in a timely manner on the steps I need to take for expanding the business.
A web site, www.michianahops.com was developed to help get word out to interested parties in our marketing area. The web site was established to inform individual home brewers that we are establishing a business to provide them with locally grown hops for their brewing needs.
A field day was planned but had to be cancelled due to health issues with our extension agent. Interested parties were welcome to stop in and discuss the growing of hops with us. I estimate that I had around twenty individuals stop in at different times. The majority of them were neighboring crop farmers and friends curious in how things were going. Others were individuals who had plots of small acreage that they were unable to rent out because today’s large field equipment is unable to get to it.
The one concern that most all of them had was marketing of the product. They’ve been accustomed to having a market established for their cash crops.
We will again plan on a field day this next year. I’ll expand the invites to home and micro brewers in the area. This will be more for the marketing of the product then the growing.
I will continue to work with the owner of the home brewers supply store to provide hops that are needed and in the package size that his customers require.