Monday kickoff: Hoppin' on the bandwagon

Goodmanor Farm. The Goodmans have been farming here for six generations. Photo: Sarah Harris.

Hurray! It's Hops Week on NCPR! Well, at least, Two Hop Days. To kickoff the week, our Champlain Valley reporter Sarah Harris has a guest post reporter's notebook about something near and dear to my heart – the crop that makes beer so good…

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This morning on NCPR we air a story that about Les and Erica Goodman, a father-daughter duo who are starting to grow hops on their longtime dairy farm in Fort Ann.

Tomorrow, we’ll hear from Ryan Delaney, about the hops boom statewide.

I really enjoyed meeting Erica and Les. They both have deep roots on the farm in Fort Ann, and are excited about the burgeoning hops market.

They’re not the only ones: hops growing has taken off in New York state, especially after last year’s farm brewery law, which requires New York state brewers to source 20% of their hops and 20% of their other ingredients from inside the state.

Steve Miller is a hops expert with Cornell Cooperative Extension, based in Morrisville, NY. He told the Innovation Trail’s Ryan Delaney that the hops industry is growing at the same pace as the brewing industry.

If you can imagine saying all of the sudden somebody invented strawberries and everybody in the state wanted to have a strawberry farm, that’s essentially what’s happening with hops.

It won’t be the first time: hops were actually a major part of New York state’s –and the north country’s — farming economy 100 years ago.

But prohibition in the 1930s, coupled with disease and pests, brought the industry to its knees.  The last beer brewed entirely from New York state hops was in the 1950s – until 2003, when the Ithaca Beer Company purchased hops from farmer Rick Peterson, to make a double IPA.

Ten years later, farmers across the state are jumping on the hops bandwagon.

But hops farmers will definitely face challenges.  There’s the usual issue of mold and disease.  Hops take two years to produce a full crop. And large scale pelletizing plants are few and far between.

And if you’re going organic, it’s even harder: the pelletizer has to be deemed organic too, and there are only 4 certified organic pelletizing plants, all of which are in Yakima, Washington.

What do you think about the hops boom? Do you think there’s opportunity there for New York state growers? Or are you worried that too many farmers will look to hops as a sort of miracle crop, and flood the market?

Let us know in the comments below.

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