By DOUG GRAVES
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Fifteen Ohio microbreweries participated in the annual Columbus Microbrew Festival in the city’s North Market earlier this month. There are 24 other microbreweries in the state, proof of a growing trend of locally produced beer in Ohio.
That’s good news for breweries, but according to Ohio State University officials most microbreweries in the state purchase their hops out of state.
“Ohio beer manufacturers send an estimated $4 million out of Ohio annually by purchasing the flowers of the hop plant, called hop cones or hops, from growers outside the state,” said Brad Bergefurd, OSU extension agriculture educator at the OSU South Centers in Piketon and at the Scioto County extension office.
In an effort to keep some of that economic activity within the state, OSU is developing a hop research program. The research, which will get under way this fall, will evaluate new hop cultivators, innovative hop production techniques, insect and disease control methods, harvesting, processing and marketing techniques that can be adopted by Ohio farmers.
In addition, an applied field research and marketing survey will be conducted to determine the dollars and jobs being sent out of state by Ohio’s brewing industry.
“This project allows us to develop sustainable production practices directly related to Ohio growing conditions,” Bergefurd said. “Data collected from these applied research trials will allow us to educate growers about production, pest management practices and phenology data.”
According to Bergefurd, hops can be grown from the sandy soils of the Lake Erie shore to the heavy clay soils of southern Ohio, so they should be adaptable to most Ohio soil types. Research plantings will be done at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster and at the OSU South Centers at Piketon on two different soil types.
“From our discussions with Ohio’s microbrewing industry, which is partnering with us on this project, brewers have shown interest in directly purchasing Ohio-grown hops and may be willing to pay a premium,” he said. “In the end this will allow Ohio’s beer manufacturers to spend their money in Ohio by purchasing Ohio-grown hops and ultimately, help create Ohio jobs. This crop may allow Ohio growers to diversify into a high-value specialty crop.”
OSU researchers estimate within the first year growers can expect a hops yield of 200-1,800 pounds per acre, depending on the cultivar, with an estimated value of $2,000-$25,200. In the second and subsequent production years, yield increases to 500-2,200 pounds per acre, valued at $7,000-$30,800.
There is an ever-increasing Ohio market for hops with the expanding brewing industry. The Ohio Department of Liquor Control handed out more alcohol manufacturing permits in the first six months of 2011 than it did in all of 2010 – a trend continuing in 2012.
“Hops are a main ingredient in beer manufacturing, providing a bitterness that balances the sweetness of the malt sugars, and a refreshing finish,” Bergefurd said.
U.S. hops are sold on the open market, with the northwestern United States supplying the majority. According to Bergefurd, hops in Ohio are grown in gardens on a small scale, and there are some producers already trying to grow them on farms.
“The reason hops production moved to the western United States about 100 years ago was because of disease and insect pests that reduced production in Ohio,” Bergefurd said. “We believe we have advanced in our production technology so that we now can profitably grow hops in Ohio commercially.”