Craft beers are on the rise, it’s not surprising. It’s more like an explosion of popularity. How to Start a Hop Farm and grow successfully
Hops serve two purposes in beer production. Hops are used to preserve beer and add flavor.
Hops are a constant requirement for craft beer brewers. The number of craft beer drinkers continues to grow, so the demand for hops in a wide variety is growing.
What is a Hop Farm?
Hops are the female flowers of a plant (cones). All kinds are perennial plants.
There are many varieties of hops and each one has its own flavor. Hop farms can be as small as two acres, but larger operations can cover 100 acres or more.
Hops are grown on trellises, which are structures that support hops. Hops can climb up to 16-20 feet in height.
Why You Should Start a Hop Farm Business
There is an increasing demand for hops suppliers due to craft beer demand. The US Brewers Association estimates that there are over 400 new craft breweries every year. The popularity of craft beer is particularly high among young consumers.
It is not necessary to have a lot of lands when growing other crops. Many states have laws that require craft beer brewers use local ingredients.
The Hop Industry in the US
Colonists set up a hops farm in 1648 to supply Massachusetts with hops.
This is the oldest known hop farm located in the US. However, the Pacific Northwest and Wisconsin were the top hop producers by the 1900s.
Washington is the leader in hops production today, holding 70% of the market. Idaho chips in at 14%, while Oregon has 13%. Massachusetts, New York, and other states hold 4% of this market.
Products You Can Create from Hop Production
- Wet Hops – This niche is important. Hops cones should be dried before shipping, but cones can be used immediately if shipped “wet”.
- Bittering Hops – These are added at the beginning of the brewing process. Bittering hops are antibacterial.
- Aroma Hops – These are the hops that enhance flavor. There are many. The most well-known are the citrus flavors which account for more than 80%.
- Non-beer Uses – Hops can be used medicinally. Hops cones are edible and can be chopped and added to salads or French fries. Hops can be used in place of basil in food recipes.
- Foundation of Craft Beer – Use the hops that you grow in your craft beer business.
12 Steps to Start a Hop Farm
More information about the Hope Farms business plan can be found at:
1. How to run a Hop Farm/Hop Yard
Hops’ success depends on the quality of their planting and tree training. These are essential parts of managing a hop farm, but the most important is to take care of hops when they are harvested.
How the hops are dried, cooled, and pelletized directly affects their quality.
2. Learn the Resources Required to Run Hop Farms
Harvesting equipment is costly. Many states have regional hop growing organizations. Members of these associations may be able to share their resources. Harvest equipment is often shared.
- Trellis Systems- Hops grow up to 20 feet in just six weeks. The trellises can be constructed by newcomers in the off-season.
- Drip irrigation systems – These systems are typically about $4,000 per acre.
- Overhead Sprinklers – It costs about 1,000 per acre.
- Harvesters – You can pick hops by hand. A hops picker is needed when plants are fully producing. The most powerful can process up to 6 vines per second and costs as high as $35,000
- Hops Bailers – Hops can be compressed into burlap-wrapped 200-pound bales.
- Tractors – Harvesters and bailers run the PTO system for tractors.
3. Learn about the Different Plant Varieties
The most loved hop variety is the citrus flavor. Citrus flavors accounted for 40% of the total market in 2012. Today, citrus flavors account for 80% of the market.
There are many flavors to choose from, but the majority of them are citrus-type.
Knowing your market is an important part of learning about the varieties. There are many types of specialized varieties that are becoming more popular.
Hallertauer is one of them. It’s a German hop that is highly prized in ales and lagers. A growing market is also held by bitter hops. Golding, a British hop, is known for its mild spices and can be used for bittering.
4. Ordering Plant Stock and Timing Delivery
They are best planted in spring. This perennial has a 5-year life span, with the best years of production being between 3 and 5 years.
You will need between 800 and 1200 plants depending on the area.
Rhizomes are small pieces of root that come from the female plant. Crowns can be planted, which are the whole plant.
In the fall, rhizomes can be purchased. These can be purchased in the fall and stored in a dark, cold place until they are ready to be used in the spring.
5. Planting the Rootstock
Both Crowns and Rhizomes are planted by hand. Preparing the soil should be done by tilling or plowing.
6. Care for Hop Plants
It is important to manage water supply and pest and nutrient control.
For every 150-pounds of nitrogen-based fertilizer, you will need approximately 150 pounds. It is crucial to apply fertilizer at the right time.
To grow up the trellis, plants must be “trained” manually.
The plants require 30 inches of rainfall during the growing season. You will use drip irrigation to achieve this amount of precipitation.
To control pests, you’ll need IPM (Integrated Pest Management). Hop aphids, and tw0-spotted spider mites, are the main pests.
If you need to treat or prevent powdery mildew, be prepared with a fungicide.
7. Harvesting Hop Plants
To separate the female flowers, the hop plant is cut down to a low level.
8. Drying Hops
A moisture meter is used to determine the dryness of hops. A moisture meter can determine the desired level of moisture.
Mold can occur if the hops don’t get dry enough. They will crack and lose their quality if they are too dry.
Kilns can be expensive so hops growers often send their products to drying companies.
9. Storing Hops
Avoid heat and light with dried hops. The cooler the better, as cold helps hops retain their aroma and quality.
10. Craft Brewers: Learn the Brewing Process
The main ingredients of the yeast are water, hops, and barley (malt).
These are the steps:
- Mashing – Ingredients, and grains are mixed with hot water to create Wort.
- Boiling – Wort is added to a kettle and then boiled. Bittering hops can be added earlier, while aroma hops can be added later.
- Fermentation – The boil is cooled, and yeast is added. The yeast will convert the sugars into alcohol.
- Filtering and pouring into bottles or barrels.
11. Marketing your Hop Business
Joining your local or regional hop-growing association via its website is a good first step in marketing hops.
Social media and a website are great tools for promoting craft beer brewing. You can host tastings or other events, and gather an email address for each participant.
Keep in mind that even though you may be in the east, your competition is established growers in Pacific Northwest. It is easy to ship and light.
You can use the harvest to make your own craft brews. You can also sell the harvest to commercial and home-based beer makers using your website and other promotional tools to increase orders.
How Much do Hop Farmers Make?
Hop Growers of America have created a variety of sample budgets to help you choose the right size hop farm.
Two main factors affect income:
- Your time in business. The cost of capital investment and the time it takes hop plants to mature (3 years) eat up profits in the first year.
- The size of the acreage of your farm.
Hop Growers of America answers all questions for newcomers. Hops are available for purchase at prices between $3-15 per hops price per pound. The yield of hops can reach 1,800 pounds per acre when the plants mature.
90% of hops are covered by contracts for craft breweries. It can be difficult for newcomers not to get into long-standing contracts.
Things to Consider Before starting a Hop Farming Business
Hops require a 120-day growing period. After harvest, roots are kept in the ground. The plant will likely die if it is exposed to temperatures below -20. They thrive in USDA zones 3-8.
Choose an area that has rich, well-drained soil and where plants can get 6-8 hours of sunshine daily.
Climate and Environment
The soil pH should be between 6 and 7. A hot and humid summer is the best climate.
The Pacific Northwest is therefore a leadership area.
Each state has its own regulations regarding environmental permits. Additional permits, licensing, and approvals may be required in some states.
Your Target Market
Contracts have been established for hops plants by well-established growers. These contracts usually last several years and are based on the peak production years of the hops plants.
Research should focus on long-term relationships between buyers and producers. Your local association may also be of assistance.
Who are your customers? Which type of product is the most likely to purchase? Do they work in the beverage, food, or home brewing industries? These are important points to remember.
Seasonal help is a large part of the labor force. It is essential to have workers available for planting, as well as during “trellis training”. Monitoring the water supply and monitoring pests and fungus are two important functions of permanent staff.
Farmers have special insurance requirements. Crop insurance can help you cover crop damage due to severe weather events. Insurance for business, including coverage for buildings, farm machinery, and vehicles, is also necessary.
An EIN number is required if you intend to hire employees. Estimate taxes and calculate quarterly pay. This is crucial because your income will essentially occur in the month at harvest.
What is the cost of starting to grow hops?
For ten acres, the start-up cost is estimated at $200,000
What is an acre’s worth of hops?
It all depends on the market and where you are located. But, in general:
One acre can support 1,200 plants
Each plant can yield 1-2 pounds of dried product.
Depending on the market, you can get between $3 and $15 hops per pound.
For as little as one pound, you can make between $3,600 to $18,000 per acre.
How many acres are worth of hops?
Even if you are able to sell one acre for $18,000, your first year may only bring in $1,000.
This is due to the high cost of the trellis system as well as other farm machinery. Your plants are not at their peak production potential when they harvest at one to two years of age.
You will need more trellises for larger areas. The hops farming equipment requirements don’t change.
How many acres are required to grow hops in your garden?
A 2020 Cornell study found that the cost to establish a farm is between $12,000 and $5,000 per acre.
The same study found that 10-15 acres could yield an income of $12,000-15,000 an acre.
Once the equipment is in place, profit variations are related to age. Planning is key to keeping the farm in peak production.