WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — As more craft breweries pop up in Indiana, demand has grown for locally produced ingredients such as hops, and Purdue University is offering advice to those seeking more information about growing the crop.
The university has presented webinars on the cost of production and pest and disease management in hopyards, and next month will host a field day near West Lafayette. While acreage in Indiana devoted to hops is small, Lori Hoagland, an assistant professor of horticulture at Purdue, said interest is growing.
"We’re definitely seeing a steady increase in questions regarding hops and we decided we really needed to start developing research and outreach programs," she said. Compared to prolific hops-growing states such as Washington, Oregon and Idaho, hops will "probably always be a niche market here," she noted. "But I don’t think (this interest) is just a fad."
Statewide, 5-6 people have installed hopyards for a total of about 10 acres, Hoagland said. Another 20 people have shown sincere interest, she added. Yards in Indiana tend to be a couple of acres at the most, while out West it’s not uncommon to see 450-acre yards.
Hops are used as a flavoring and to stabilize beer, and are also found in other beverages and in some herbal medicines.
Nationwide, the number of craft brewers was 2,538 in June 2013, according to Rob Sirrine, Michigan State University extension food systems educator. That number was up from the late 1970s, when there were fewer than 90 breweries across the country. Nationally, craft brewers had an economic impact of about $33.9 billion in 2012, he said.
Indiana’s first craft brewery opened in 1990 and the state now has approximately 90, according to the Brewers Guild of Indiana. "Without this big growth in the craft beer sector, we probably wouldn’t see the growth in the hop sector, either," Sirrine said.
Those interested in growing hops should understand the costs, time and intricacies involved, Hoagland said.
"Hops aren’t a very easy crop to grow and processing is even worse," she explained. "There’s a steep learning curve to get the trellises up and going, and to get the soil conditions right. Some of the folks (who have started hopyards) don’t have any background in growing plants."
The initial cost of production, which includes establishing the hopyard, purchasing the plants and an irrigation system, could be nearly $13,000 an acre for a five-acre field, Sirrine said.
Annual operating costs may be about $2,600 per acre the first year and more than $5,600 by the fifth. Operating costs include labor, which may be reduced if the hopyard owner does some or most of the work rather than paying someone else.
Net revenue per acre by the fourth year could be $5,820, Sirrine said. Current prices for conventional dry pelletized hops are $10-$14 a pound, he said, adding the price for organic hops is about $18. "The cost is definitely a deterrent," Hoagland explained. "People are not so keen on it after hearing that, and that’s what we want (if they’re not sure). We don’t want people to waste their money."
Those who do opt to continue first must establish a hopyard. Hops grow on trellises about 18 feet high, with plants spaced 3-3.5 feet apart in rows 14 feet apart. An acre will hold about 1,000-1,200 plants.
The growing season runs from April and May to September, with harvest times dependent on the variety, Sirrine said. Once the crop is harvested, the hopyard owner’s work isn’t over, he added. The harvested crop must be properly dried. Many brewers prefer the pelletized form of hops, so that procedure must be done as well.
Since hops are relatively new in this part of the country, there are many unknowns, including which varieties might grow best, Hoagland said.
"Varieties are very important, especially for the microbreweries," she said. "We’re still not certain we’re going to be able to make all the quality (varieties) local breweries need."
Research is ongoing to determine which diseases and pests might pose a problem to hops grown in the region, said Erin Lizotte, MSU extension pest educator. Michigan has about 400 acres devoted to hops. "We’re working with a relatively new crop," she said. "It’s challenging to be in a crop that’s new where maybe we don’t have a lot of pesticides registered. We certainly don’t have a lot of experience with how to manage them in terms of horticulture or insects and diseases."
It’s also difficult for hopyard owners to know what’s normal for hops in terms of the growing season, plant growth and reaction to potential diseases or pests, Lizotte said. In Michigan, hops are susceptible to downy mildew, which may cause significant yield and quality losses, she noted. Pests such as the potato leafhopper, two-spotted spider mite, European rose chafer and Japanese beetle may also cause problems.
To view the previous webinars and to register for the Aug. 21 hops production workshop at Purdue’s Horticulture Research Farm, visit https://ag.purdue.edu/hla/fruitveg/Pages/Hops.aspx