Meeting the Needs of Microbreweries with Fresh Hops Production

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2007: $9,762.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:


  • Agronomic: hops


  • Crop Production: cover crops
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development
  • Soil Management: green manures

    Proposal summary:

    Over the last twenty years the microbrewery industry has “boomed” all across the U.S., including all Southern states. All of these businesses depend directly upon agricultural production of grains and hops with specialized beers, lagers and ales having various unique requirements. On the national scene, one relatively new but rapidly expanding trend is the production of brews using fresh hops rather than dried hops. For these brews, the need for “fresh”, preferably organic hops means that there is a de facto regional restriction to areas with endemic hops production. Otherwise breweries outside these limited hops-growing regions face extreme expenses to acquire the needed fresh hops. Thus for microbreweries in the South to effectively compete for local market share and for national recognition, farmers in our region should develop hops as a new alternative crop for both the potential high value of the agricultural product and to support innovation in the microbrewery industry in our region. We propose to establish hops as a new alternative crop on our farm in Mebane, North Carolina with the primary aim the production of fresh hops for use by the local and regional microbrewery industry while following sustainable organic practices. We are convinced that we can successfully demonstrate the feasibility of growing this highly adaptable plant in the Piedmont region of the US South, in agricultural areas that are proximate to urban areas in this region where most microbreweries are located. We will gather the data necessary to profile the strategic and technical issues that face a farm that may choose to initiate this enterprise. Also by the end of the grant period, we will have some illustrative measures of cost outlays over the antecedent two years before the first crop of fresh hops can be sold to local microbreweries. Since there is scant data on hops production in the US South, we will grow several highly preferred cultivars in order to compare performance (crop quantity and desirability of characteristics) and thus provide some guidance for future growers in this region. In Year 1 we will establish plantings of six varieties of female hops. In Year 2 we will compare the production of fresh hops from these several varieties grown on our farm in the Piedmont region of North Carolina. For each variety we will document weight of hops produced, dates of harvest and necessarily rely on the local microbrewery users to assess characteristics and performance of the hops we produce. We will track any disease or predation problems and measures used to mitigate any such issues. For outreach to other potential producers, we will host an on-farm Field Day in Year 2 in late August or early September (during the second harvest season). We will try to have some beer that has been made with our hops for tasting. We will advertise with brochures and signage and will seek the advice of our local agriculture extension office to enhance distribution to other prospective farmer producers. We will also invite brewing supply stores and other microbreweries in our region. We will establish a website to specifically promote and describe our hops production program. We have discussed our tentative plans to grow hops with Julie Johnson Bradford, the editor of “All About Beer” magazine and she indicated a strong interest in running an article if we proceed with this plan. We are confident that several local newspapers would have interest in running articles on what would be the novel topic of local hops production. We will also be available for speaking engagements at regional agricultural and food/beverage-related events. We will convert underutilized pasture into a hops yard. We will lay out circles with a radius of 12 ft with a planting bed-width of 4 ft. We will remove a “doughnut” of turf with a turf cutter to a depth of 1½ in. (This material will be used as fill in adjacent pasture.) The turf remaining in the center and the periphery will be clipped with a mower. Edges will be maintained with an edger to keep weeds from invading the mulched area. At the center of each “doughnut”, we will erect a “Maypole” made out of 15 ft of electrical PVC pipes, which are sunlight resistant. The top will be fitted with a PVC toilet flange that will allow each rope to be attached using 5/16” shackles. With 3 ft in the ground, the 12 ft elevation will allow us to run 24 x 17 ft lengths of sisal rope outward in a circular pattern that will permit 12 rhizomes to be planted about each “Maypole” with spacing of approximately 6 ft between plants. Two 16-inch tie out stakes will be placed into the ground adjacent to each rhizome for attachment of ropes to allow hops runners to follow. Prior to transplantation of rhizomes, we will add compost, till and test the soil, add lime as needed and cover the cleared area with a layer of old newspapers topped with wood chip mulch to a depth of approximately 3 in. African Marigold seeds will be planted to help deter harmful insects. In Year 1 we will purchase 12 female rhizomes of each of the 6 different varieties of hops listed below in order to compare a spectrum of hops types and season of harvest. Variety - Yield - Maturity - Trait - Cone Structure Cascade - high - mid-season - aroma - elongated Centennial - high - mid-season -alpha/aroma - medium, dense Chinook - high - mid to late - alpha/aroma - long with outward bracts Crystal - high - mid to late - aroma - medium, oval Fuggle - low - early - aroma - small, light Northern Brewer - moderate - mid-season - alpha - medium, loose During the growing season, we will clip the mixed grass turf areas with a power mower and maintain a weed-free zone near the hops plants by hand-weeding, edging, and adding mulch as needed. Hops will be harvested on the vine using a 12-foot extension ladder. Following harvest of the fresh hops, we will leave the runners in situ until the first frost. The continued growth will build reserve in the plant until it dies off at the first frost. At that time vines and ropes will be composted. After harvest of hops, we will enhance soil fertility by over-seeding Crimson clover into the turf areas as a green manure. In the spring we will mow the turf and add wood chip mulch, compost and lime as needed to the “doughnut” ring of hops plants.

    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.