With many of these breweries already rooted in the community and even more vying to make it big, opportunity seems to be a glass half empty. But you don’t have to brew in order to cash in, and that’s exactly how farmers across the nation are viewing this cultural and economic boom. As an epicenter to the craft beer trend in the Midwest and a recognized farming state, Ohio has the potential to capitalize.
There are four main ingredients in beer: water, barley, hops, and yeast. With this extraordinary growth in breweries, resources are at an all-time low. Of the four ingredients, barley and hops are of particular interest. A shift from intensely bitter to flavor and aroma packed beers means nearly doubling the weight of hops in recipes. Although U.S. hop acreage has increased nearly 52% over the last three years, hop availability is sporadic at best, and hop contracts are almost entirely consumed by established breweries. And on the other end, distributors are blackmailing smaller breweries to purchase their surplus malts in order to get the hops they want.
While malts aren’t quite as difficult to get your hands on, the majority of barley used in beer making comes from the European Union. And in North America, Canada doubles the output of barley compared to the U.S. Of the entire world’s harvest, a mere 22% is for industrial use, including malting and beer making. This hasn’t gone unrecognized, especially by farmers from the U.S. who are noticing stern federal regulation of hops and barley from growers overseas with loose regulations. Aside from the big players in barley farming (Montana, North Dakota, and Idaho) states such as South Dakota, Colorado, Wyoming, and Minnesota have all seen increases in seeded acreage over the last year. The same can be said for hops.
With the Pacific Northwest (Washington, Oregon, Idaho) at the forefront, states such as Montana, Nebraska, Minnesota, Indiana, New York, New Hampshire, and Maine are all taking the leap in the hop growing game. A name you don’t see on either of those lists is Ohio.
Of the 45,000+ acres of U.S hops harvested for industry use in 2015, only 50 were from Ohio, with the overwhelming majority coming from the Pacific Northwest. The U.S. harvested nearly 3.1M acres of barley in 2015, and Ohio isn’t even on the list of growers. But with Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati making big splashes in the beer scene, an existing farming infrastructure and favorable climate, Ohio has the potential to be a big name in hop and barley farming. The current revitalization of heirloom malts and hop and barley growers expanding outside the Pacific Northwest and upper North America offers the perfect opportunity for farmers to take the plunge. The shortage of supplies due to the craft beer boom has brewers looking to local hop and barley growers, piggybacking the local resources movement. With our society is fixated with 100% local ingredients and 100% local beer, it doesn’t get much better than that.
Some growers in Ohio have already begun to take advantage of this shortage. According to the Ohio Hop Growers Guild, there are nearly 40 small Hops farms stretching from Toledo to Cincinnati. The potential is so great, The Ohio State University and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center hosts an Ohio Hop Conference and Trade show to help growers and anyone else interested in growing learn more about the product and industry. And while there aren’t farmers who grow barley alone, some grow it alongside other small grains such as wheat, oats, and corn. It may never gain the same traction hop farming does since Ohio has been and will continue to be a large producer of wheat, but Ohio is well on it’s way to becoming a sustainable grower and producer of some of the nation’s best craft beer!
HOW TO: Grow your own hops in 5 easy steps
01. Obtain rhizome of desired hops to be grown. You can find these at your local home brew shop when in season (spring). Keep the rhizome moist and refrigerated until the soil is ready for planting.
02. Spring is planting time. Choose a location with southern exposure to sun and plenty of space (~20 feet) upward or horizontally for the vine to grow. Dig a hole about 1-2 inches deep and plant the rhizome horizontally. Allow ~5 feet of space between each rhizome. Frequent, but short waterings work best. The soil should never remain dry for extended periods of time.
03. String a trellis system up directly behind the rhizome. This can be 8-10 feet depending on space constrictions or up to 20 feet tall to allow the vine to grow in subsequent years. After the vine has reached about a foot in height, choose the hardiest vines (2-3) and prune the rest. Now wrap these around the trellis in a clockwise motion and prune subsequent vines from the base of the plant.
04. The first year will establish the permanent root stock, called the crown. This can survive deep freezes so don’t worry about the dieback on the rest of the plant. You won’t get much flowering growth in the first year. Try to focus on maintaining the vine structure. In years two and three, you will begin to see substantial gains in flowers, which are your harvestable hops cones.
05. It’s time to harvest (Aug-Sep)! You’ll know the hops are ready when the aroma is most potent. Test by crushing a cone in between your hands and giving it a whiff. Mature cones should be plump and begin to dry only slightly. Pick only the cone, leaving behind leaf material. Cones that are brown and slimy are no good. Dry your harvest thoroughly either by air or dry heat. They’re ready to use! Most home grown hops are used for flavor and aroma, as the potency (alpha acid %) is mostly unknown. Enjoy!