The quest to make a great craft beer has to start somewhere and that is often at the hops that are used to make the beverage. Craft beer sales are booming and knowing how to start a hop farm can help an entrepreneurial spirit cash in on the action. As with any farming venture, you’ll need to have some land available to grow the hops in order to become an independent grower. Many states have laws in place that require locally sourced ingredients be used for craft beers, so there is an immediate sales advantage.
The biggest obstacle toward starting a hop farm is the cost involved. The trellises that are used to hold the plants in place can cost upwards of $15,000 a piece. There is also drying equipment, pitching, tractors, and other farm equipment that will be necessary to plant, grow, and harvest the hops. All of this adds up, so securing capital to cover the start-up costs may be necessary. For a 10 acre farm, expect to need at least $200,000 to get started. Get the cash and then follow these steps.
1. Plant Your Rootstock.
Hops grow in vines that are similar to grapes in some ways. Instead of being low and extended, however, hops are grow up tall. You’ll need to plant the rootstock right away so that the plants can begin to grow. This is going to be a long-term investment because it takes about 5 years for the plants to mature enough to be at full production. Farmers will still get hops right away, but slow and steady growth is the plan for this business.
2. Have a Plan To Dry The Hops.
A hop farmer can either sell wet hops or dry hops. Wet hops are good for making single batch beers, but the problem is that they spoil very rapidly. Many wet hops need to be used within 24 hours of harvest. Most of the beer that is made today comes from dry hops. This requires the hops to be dried and then crushed into a powder. The powder is then compressed into pellets. Many states don’t have a pelletizer, so you’ll need a plan on how to package dry hops to sell to the breweries.
3. Know Your Climate.
For the better part of a century, hops in the United States were only grown in the Pacific Northwest. The climate there is wet, moist, and with a period of hot summer that lasts about 8 weeks that helps to mature the plant. Much of the knowledge in growing hops comes from this region, which isn’t so useful if your planned hop farm is located in Nebraska. Get to know your climate and how your plants will respond so that the production values can be maximized.
4. Stock Up On Your Fertilizers And Water.
Once the hops begin to grow, they begin to grow like weeds. They can easily reach 20 feet in size in just 6 weeks’ time. A mature plant will produce up to 8 wet pounds of hops. Since hops are actually flowers, the plants will need a lot of food to reach the blooming stage. Just 1 acre of hops can consume up to 150 pounds of nitrogen-based fertilizers and the equivalent of 30 inches of precipitation. You’ll need to have these supplies on hand to support the health of the plant.
5. Understand The Environmental Permits That May Be Required.
Farming has a direct impact on the water supply and quality of soil. Whether the new hop farm is just 1 acre in size or 1,000 acres, there are likely environmental permits that will be required to begin this business venture. In some states, a system of permits, licenses, and approvals are required before any farming activities are allowed to start. Secure this paperwork before planting to avoid any trouble.
6. Make Sure Your Taxes Are In Order.
There may be some farming incentives available to you through the tax code. There may also be a requirement for an EIN from the IRS if you plan to hire employees for a US-based hop farm. Because the US taxation system is considered a “pay as you go” type of system, it is important to make sure your structure is in place right away and that any planned estimated taxes are paid on-time to avoid sometimes steep penalties.
7. Get To Work.
The early days of a hop farm are very labor intensive. Planting the hops generally happens by hand. Stringing up the high trellis is usually completed by hand as well. Many smaller farmers must hand-harvest their hops as well. Secure a contract with a local brewery for the hops, plan a way to transport the flowers to the brewery and then get to work cultivating and expanding the farm to meet demand.
Although craft brewing has exploded in popularity, there has not been a similar explosion of hop farming. This could be a very profitable business venture if given enough time. Follow these steps, get the land ready for planting, and then enjoy being part of a supply chain that creates an incredible product that everyone enjoys.