The Ohio State University has a research farm in Piketon, OH and I was invited to attend an informational meeting on growing hops in Ohio along with a tour of their hop yard.
There are no records of commercial hops operations in Ohio since around 1920. Back then the Ohio crops were virtually wiped out by downy mildew disease, something that is still a concern today… prohibition had to hurt a bit too.
That was nearly 100 years ago and things have hopefully changed for the better. Some may be asking why should THE Ohio State University (OSU), the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA), and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) care about hops?
First off they’re a very important part of beer, especially in IPAs which reign supreme among craft beer styes. Take that high demand combined with worldwide shortages in recent years and fewer folks growing less hops on the west coast, America’s current top hop spot.
OSU cares even more about hops in Ohio due to the locavore trend. For a few years now more and more folks have wanted local produce and everyone wants to know how many of their local brewers ingredients are local. This is a question I’ve thrown at every brewer I’ve interviewed, their response is along the lines of “None, there aren’t any local ingredients available, but maybe some spices here or there.”
If OSU can help Ohio farmers grow Ohio hops then Ohio brewers can give Ohio residents a more local product.
Many folks were interested in what varieties were being tried. The core line up was Cascade, Nugget, Williamette, Columbus, Sterling, and Centennial with Galena, Mt. Hood, Hallertauer tradition, and Spalter Select as additional varieties. Without any doubt Columbus was growing the tallest with the most cones, cones being the part “where the magic happens”.
I turned to twitter to see if folks had question and provided answers below were I could:
- @sudsanonymous: Are rhizomes planted at intervals to allow for more frequent harvests?
- No one is doing this yet but the researchers seemed to think it was a great idea and may try it next year.
- @L_AllenH: When I buy rhizomes some suggest planting vertically and others horizontally… what is the science behind it?
- Doesn’t seem to matter because like they say in Jurassic park life will find a way. But do plant two rhizomes per spot to make sure at least one takes.
- @BeerNFoodLover, @rjbedinghaus, and @TyrannyBrewing all asked if farmers were doing whole or pellets and where those whole hops/pellets were for sale.
- As of right now there are really only 2 people growing more then a few plants. They’ve both worked out arrangements with local brewers near them. One of those arrangements is whole hops, used in dry hoping, in exchange for Jackie O’s growlers… that’s my kind of arrangement. The other guy has a deal worked out with Yellow Springs Brewery, not sure the details there but if it involves Captain Stardust it’s a win!
- @LooseScrewBeers: Whats the biggest problem they face growing hops in Ohio? Is it bugs? Fungal diseases? Other?
- No one has seen fungal diseases or bugs yet but downy mildew is starting to set in on some plants, though they should be harvested any day now.
Going a bit further on @LooseScrewBeers question there are two pretty big impediments for Ohio farmers right now. First off they’re looking at about $10,000 per acre invested (not including land or labor) just to get the hops in the ground. Then you have to cut them down, pick them off the bines (not vines), and dry them. All three of those are very labor intensive activities that have yet to be efficiently automated…. though a machine meant for “medical” marijuana is showing some promise. After that $10,000 investment and that labor they’re looking at $2,000 yield the first year, hopefully going up to $7,000 in subsequent years. Which could put them at 3 – 5 years to pay off that initial investment… before making any profit.
I didn’t want to get overly heavy into the research that was done by OSU or the magic of hops; but hit me up if you’re curious and I’ll send you a copy of the material they handed out PLUS stay tuned to the blog because I plan a post on the science of the hop.
Lastly I also found out I’m not mature enough for a discussion about aged natural grass fed cattle fertilizer… which is the fanciest way I’ve ever heard anyone say cow shit.