Did you know that in the 1860s, Wisconsin produced 75 percent of the nation’s hops? It was a golden age of hops for the Great Lakes region — specifically for a state that has long been associated with beer. Of course, today the lion’s share of the hop growing industry is now overseas in Europe and in the Pacific Northwest (states like Washington, Idaho and Oregon have more than 30,000 acres of hops in production), but Wisconsin farmers are looking to change that. According to excellent article on Madison.com, the Wisconsin ag industry is seeing the dollar signs in investing in hop farms.
Growing hops is labor intensive, but it’s more lucrative than growing corn or beans, [dairy farmer Amy Wiegand] said. Once plants reach maturity and start producing their full yield potential, an acre of hops could produce $12,000 to $15,000 per year.
“I wouldn’t get that return on another acre of corn,” she said.
Wisconsin’s unique soil, climate, weather and abundance of fresh water make it an ideal location for a full spectrum of hop farmers. We’re excited to see those north-central states embracing the hops movement, but it is an industry that still needs to mature. When talking with Founders co-founder Dave Engbers a few months ago, he had this to say about neighboring Michigan hop farmers.
“We like to source ingredients locally if that ingredient fits our standard of quality,” Engbers said. “We also have a policy that says just because something is grown locally, in the county next to you, doesn’t mean it belongs in our beer. Our [Michigan] hop growers from what I understand are starting to make way. They’ve got to do some more work on their processing equipment and their harvesting equipment, but I think we’d be very interested in utilizing some of the local hops when their quality standards meet our quality standards.”
Of course, breweries like Founders have had their fair share of trouble with hops contractors and hops availability and that’s partly helping Wisconsin farmers make some inroads into the beer industry.
With the resurgence of the craft beer industry and consumer trends favoring locally produced consumables, growers are selling out of their entire crop before the harvest even begins, said Gorst Valley President and CEO James Altwies. The hops shortage is fueled partly by a manufacturer shortage in the Pacific Northwest and partly due to growers’ demand for certain specialty varieties that are difficult to find, Altwies said…
“It’s amazing what brewers are creating these days,” he said. “We have brewers who are creating new beers around our hops.”