PIKETON — With 177 total craft breweries, Ohio ranks 12th in the United States for number of craft breweries, according to the Brewers Association. In 2011 Ohio only had 45 craft breweries, and as the number continues to increase, hops farms become a needed asset.
A craft (or small) brewery produces beer in a traditional or non-mechanized way. Brewers Association defines a craft brewer as “small, independent and traditional.”
Not unlike the uniqueness of growing vegetables and cattle on southern hill farms, “hops is a different species of specialty crop compared to what is traditionally grown in Ohio,” according to Brad Bergefurd, Ohio State Extension Horticulture Specialist, Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator.
Bergefurd hosted two bus loads of hops farmers and interested participants through the winding and hilly roads of southern Ohio. This tour was part of the Ohio State Hops Conference, Bus Tour, & Trade Show, March 23-24, at the Endeavor Center in Piketon.
During the bus tour, the group visited Old Dutch Hops farm in Hillsboro and Scott Farms in Georgetown, where they learned that talking to brewers is vital.
Hannah Scott welcomed the tour group to Scott Farms, where her and her family grows just under two acres of hops with about 2,000 plants, consisting of 1,200 Cascade hop plants and about 800 Fuggle hop plants.
“When we first decided to raise hops, we talked to brewers,” said Hannah. “Talk to brewers before you do anything. Before you have plants, before you have land. You need to talk to the people who you think are going to buy your product.”
Hannah said that she would put challenges for beginning hops farmers into two buckets: production and marketing. She emphasized the importance of marketing, how it is a full-time job and “the earlier, the better.”
Hannah said that weed control is one of the biggest issues on the hops farm and so they spend a lot of time hand-pulling weeds and trimming throughout the season.
“The yields vary by variety. We look at yields in pounds and pellets,” said Hannah. She explained that last year they yielded between 300 and 400 pounds of cascade pellets and about 10 to 15 pounds of Fuggle pellets.
The primary operation on Scott Farms is beef cattle. They also raise corn, soybeans and sometimes rye, in addition to forage crops for cattle feed. The total acreage of Scott Farms is between 500 and 600 acres.
Hannah’s brother, Erik, and their father, Fred, are full-time farmers, with the help of their mother, Frankie, and Hannah, who said that they have a lot of cousins who help out on the farm. The Scott family sells all throughout the year and whatever they don’t sell, they freeze for the next year.
Frankie spoke to the group about their oast house, a food processing facility designed to dry hops. The Scott family also uses this Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) licensed facility to process hops into pellets.
For more information visit: www.scottfarmsohio.com
Old Dutch Hops
Amanda Wilson and Brady Kirwan of Old Dutch Hops grow 2 acres of hops and in 2017 they became Ohio’s first OEFFA (Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association) certified organic hopyard.
Amanda is the third generation on the Old Dutch Hops farm, explaining that they are trying to continue the diversified farm her grandparents established. In addition to the hops, they have organic chickens and are starting to make their own organic maple syrup.
“We’ve had a few mildew problems,” Brady explained. “But most of our problems are weeds and Japanese beetles.” The couple are trying to manage these problems with livestock, referring to the 200 chickens running around the hops yard. Amanda said that the chickens do a lot for the ground, adding about 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre.
“[Hops farming] is not a straightforward money-maker, that’s for sure,” said Amanda. “But it’s fun and when you get your hops in a beer and you can work with the brewer directly, you find someone you like to work with that makes it really fun.”
As organic farmers, Brady and Amanda spend a lot of time working on the soil.
“We’re developing our soil – that’s the part that take a long time,” said Brady. “It’s not that easy, especially when you don’t have the ability to provide everything your plants need in a chemical form. We have to get the dirt to a point where the dirt can provide it to our plants.”
The couple sells to farmers markets, some restaurants and takes vegetables to a food desert in Cincinnati every week. And as the only certified organic hops farm in Ohio, marketing is pretty easy.
“Folks reach out to us,” Brady said. “That’s not going to last very long. Hopefully there’s going to be some more.” Amanda added that the best marketing strategy for them is to go into breweries, have a beer and talk to them.
Brady said that the paperwork for becoming organic certified is “not that bad. The hard part’s doing the growing.”
Bergefurd emphasized that there a lot of benefits for hops farmer in Ohio, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the National Organic Program. He said that these programs are coming up for discussion during the 2018 Farm Bill.
“We have to keep that stuff in there [2018 Farm Bill] or it’s going to make it rough on us small town farmers,” said Bergefurd.
For more information visit: www.olddutchhops.com