The little green flowers responsible for beer’s note of bitterness is attracting a whole new group of farmers to Ohio. More than 100 years ago hop growers populated the state, but between Prohibition and growing problems with insects and mildew, the industry moved mainly to the Pacific Northwest. But Ohio’s explosion of craft brewers in the last couple of years has attracted hop farms to the area.
“The amount of growth in just the last couple of years is amazing,” said Brad Bergefurd, a horticulture specialist at Ohio State University Extension. “ Taking a 100-year-old crop and bringing it back to Ohio is awesome.”
Dave Volkman of Ohio Valley Hops grew produce for several years at his small 12-acre Maineville farm, and in 2011 planted his first hops crop after being inspired by a trip to Germany, which grows about 40% of the worlds crop last year. The United States grows about 34%, most of which is grown in Washington state.
Ohio State University Extension horticulturalist Brad Bergefurd, has received grant funding to explore how to successfully grow hops in Ohio. Bergefurd’s goal is to help local growers supply the hops needs of the ever growing microbreweries that are sprouting up throughout the state. Currently about $10 million annually is spent with out of state suppliers of hops.
Ohio hops growers are on their way to meeting demand. Last year was the first time since Prohibition the state reported hops production: 100 acres planted and 30 acres harvested. In February, Ohio State University partnered with the Ohio Craft Brewers Association to put on a 2 day conference for hops growers this past February that was attended about 500 people.
One of those growers in attendance was Dayton’s own Amy Forsthoefel, one of the three owners at Little Miami Farms. She shared with us how the Ohio Hops Growers Guild has formed to help the local growers network and learn from each other, as well as set quality standards that will make the Ohio market stand out in the beer world. In their second growing season, Forsthoefel shares that “at this time they are only growing enough hops to sell to homebrewers, as their entire crop would not satisfy the needs of a brewery like Warped Wing.” Little Miami Farms has plans to continue to expand their hops crop and is even considering adding barley in future seasons.
“We want an Ohio variety that’s a little different and grows well here and sets Ohio apart,” Dave Volkman said, adding a few growers with horticulture backgrounds have begun experimenting.
Volkman, who is one of the guild’s directors, said the organization is working on a common definition of quality that meets Ohio brewer needs. Aside from being a stamp of approval and reassurance for hops buyers, the guild also is a resource for growers to learn, buy items for less in bulk and lobby on their behalf when necessary.
Another key ingredient to capturing the Ohio brewery market is hops processing, preferably pelletized. Many Ohio brewers have used fresh hops for seasonal brews, most use pellets because, in addition to a longer shelf life, they also provide flavor consistency. While pelletized hops are in highest demand, Bergefurd and Volkman expect interest in fresh hops to grow this year after breweries had a successful run with the wet or green brews they made with fresh hops last year. Breweries usually make only a few barrels of a wet brew.
“It’s a newer craft brew that they couldn’t make four or five years ago,” Bergefurd said, noting the recipe requires the hops to be brewed within 24 hours of being picked.
“The plants typically take up to three years to mature, and for vines to develop their full flavor, but after that they can produce for up to 15 years”, according to Forsthoefel. Hops plants grow upward of 18 feet, so a trellis system will need to be at least that tall and consist of a grid of poles, cables and a drip irrigation system. This can be costly and time consuming to create, so plans for expansion must be balanced with income projections and the ability to harvest the plans in a timely manner.
Ohio has seen great camaraderie amongst farms and five farms have gone in together and invested in a mobile hops harvester, which can run between $12-20,000 and four have invested in a hops pelletizer, which costs about $15,000. This spirit of teamwork will allow the industry to flourish in Ohio as the growers continue to claim their hops heritage.
Pre-registration is suggested to help the host hop yards anticipate how many visitors they will have. This event is free; you can visit as many hop yards as time allows.
These are working farms, so please follow all signs for your safety and others.
- Second Sons Hopyard, Canton
- Heartland Hops, Ft Recovery
- Mankato Farms, New Carlisle
- Grandpop’s Hops, Marysville
- Barley31 Malting, Raymond
- Ohio Valley Hops, Maineville
- Little Miami Farms, Xenia
- Spanky’s Hops, Jamestown
- Old Dutch Hops, Hillsboro