Hang on, Hoppy Local Ohio hops tap into Ohio craft beer market

Over clinking pint glasses and a half-eaten basket of mozzarella sticks at The Varsity Club, Brad Bergefurd admired the IPA in front of him. Its pale golden color reflected the dim light onto the worn table of the booth in the far corner. As he held it up to appreciate the flavor, he wondered if he might have grown the hops that were an essential ingredient in the cold beverage.

Researcher, extension educator, Ph.D. student and self-proclaimed craft beer connoisseur, Bergefurd, from Wilmington, Ohio, has been studying the impacts of hop growth in Ohio for the past seven years. Bergefurd has been researching the best growing practices, how to start a hops operation and the local Ohio strains of the specialty crop.

Bergefurd is a two-time graduate of The Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and is currently pursuing his doctorate in agricultural and extension education.

His interest in Ohio’s hop industry started on a late night in 2012, after a full day of extension conference programs. In a hotel bar, he and entomologist Mary Gardiner, Ph.D., questioned the industry’s lack of presence in Ohio. In no time, the pair’s current project was born.

Growing Up

Hops are considered a specialty crop. They grow vertically on bines, which are similar to vines. The cone is the flower of the plant and contains lupulin, a powder that holds the flavor and determines the brewing characteristics.

During harvest, the bines are cut down and untangled from the wires supporting them and the cones are pulled off. Once the cones are removed, they are either dried or processed for a green brew. If the brewers want a green, fresh hop, the cones are processed and formed into pellets, which is how they are utilized by brewers.

If the brewers want the more common form of hops, they are dried for at least 24 hours.

The tricky part of the process is avoiding over-drying. If the hops begin to get too hot, acids in the lupulin break down and lose their flavor.

After the cones are dried, they are pelletized and shipped off to brewers, who use them to make the golden ales and IPAs that are enjoyed all over the state.

Dried hop cones and pellets

Taking Root

After receiving a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture in 2013, Bergefurd and Gardiner began test trials of hop yards and found Ohio is the perfect location for the specialty crop.

The research conducted from 2013 to 2018 focused on the viability of hop growth in Ohio, leading to the discovery of Ohio’s optimum soil profiles, climate and insect population for hop success. The research conducted in the early years laid the groundwork for hop production in Ohio. Due to Bergefurd’s efforts, there are currently 30 times more hop yards in the Buckeye state compared to 2012, which has dramatically increased locally sourced craft beer available to Ohioans.

Eventually, the developments in the industry led to the conception of the Hop Growers Guild.

According to the Ohio Hop Growers Guild website, the group of hop farmers formed after learning from Bergefurd. The guild serves as a way for cultivators to gather, share information and learn about the potentially lucrative endeavor.

Next Steps

Seven years after the initial research began, Bergefurd is using his findings to study Ohio-specific breeds of hops.

“Before Prohibition, Ohio was a top producer of hops,” Bergefurd said. “They would transport hops in open-air train cars, so now you can find wild hops growing from 100 years ago along old train tracks. Mother Nature has done the genetic selection for us.”

The insight gained from working with land-owners to identify native hop yards led Bergefurd to analyze the wild hops for uniqueness and brewing characteristics.

“Each kind of hop brews a little differently,” Bergefurd said. “They give a different taste to the final product. We think we have two new strains that are native to Ohio, but that’s not confirmed yet.”

"Mother Nature has done the genetic selection for us."

-Brad Bergefurd

Threats to Hoppiness

Hop growers have several hurdles to jump to help their plants thrive, one of which is the infamous spider mite. Celeste Welty, Ph.D., an entomologist and associate professor in the Department of Entomology, worked with Bergefurd to combat this pest. Spider mites eat the sap from hop leaves, which ends up killing the foliage.

Spider mites are too small to see with the naked eye and hide under webs they weave. These factors make them a real challenge.

Welty had a solution. Phytoseiidae, or “fast white mites,” as Welty calls them, are natural predators to the spider mite and do not eat hop leaves. When the fast white mites were released into a hop yard, the spider mite population was stunted, but it wasn’t worth it.

“We had several grants that covered our project, but if the growers had to pay for it themselves, it would be pretty expensive,” said Welty. “If I were worried about anything, I would worry about downy mildew.”

Downy mildew is a disease that infects hop plants. According to Ohioline.osu.edu, downy mildew is the most destructive and prevalent threat to hops in Ohio. While some varieties of hops are naturally resistant to the tough pathogen, all strains are susceptible to it.

North Carolina State University reports downy mildew is a pathogen transported via air and can lay dormant in the winter by surviving inside the plant’s crown, or the stump left after harvest.

Spider mite impacted hops-- photo provided by Dr. Celeste Welty

The management practices for this disease mostly involve burning infected plants and a regular application of fungicides. For more information on downy mildew, visit the Ohio Hop Disease Management Guide.

The United States Department of Agriculture reports downy mildew grows best in climates with high humidity, heavy rainfall and temperatures between 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. While Ohio isn’t known for its consistent weather patterns, it fits the mold to make downy mildew a problem.

Farmers who use the researchers’ data to combat these challenges and want to grow Ohio hops are excited to see what comes of Bergefurd’s latest project.

A hop yard in Ohio-- photo provided by Dr. Celeste Welty

Hop to it

Rubiana Berridge, one of the owners of 3 Chicks Farm in Marion, Ohio, said, “For someone with the ‘locally grown’ market in mind, an all-Ohio hop would be great. When it comes out, growers will grow it.”

Berridge has been growing hops for three years and is anticipating a strong harvest.

“The hops market is growing,” she said. “The Hop Growers Guild is great about supporting each other and gave us plenty of resources to expand.”

As of February 2019, Ohio has 120 acres of hops planted and in use. To sustain the state’s own craft beer consumption, Ohio farmers would have to grow a total of 6,000 acres.

Throughout the years, hops have proven to be an investment that continues to benefit the Ohio economy.

Dan Schaffer, lead brewer at Land Grant Brewing Company, has firsthand experience with Ohio hops, specifically those from Bergefurd’s research plots.

“We’ve done wet, fresh hops with Ohio State,” Shaffer said about Bergefurd’s hop crop.

When hops are called green, wet or fresh, they were harvested and immediately brewed. Hops are typically dried and pelletized before going to brewers, but in the late summer months, when the days are long and hot, a green hop goes into bright and refreshing beers.

“We are looking forward to more. I was disappointed we couldn’t do one this year because it gives a very unique character,” Shaffer said. “That’s where Ohio hops really have room to grow. To do a green hop, it has to be at the brewery within 48 hours of them being picked.”

"“That’s where Ohio hops really have room to grow."

-Dan Shaffer

Transporting green hops from more prominent growing regions like Oregon and Washington to Ohio is expensive and difficult to do in time for fresh processing. Shaffer asserted that Ohio has an opportunity to fill that market.

Ohio-brewed beers

Bergefurd has done the math for Ohio hops and is presenting promising numbers. While starting a hop operation is costly, the profits are substantial.

An average acre of hops will yield 1,500 pounds of dried hops. Dry hops usually sell for $5-10 per pound. With a potential revenue of $7,500-15,000 per acre, the crop can turn profit quickly.

One of the most dominant expenses in hop farming is labor. Hops require a great deal of hand labor to maintain and harvest. There is no machinery for hop harvest; only processing.

“It’s a lot of bending and physical strain,” said Bergefurd. “But it opens up an opportunity to hire FFA and 4-H members to help out. They get agricultural experience and farmers get to teach the next generation. It’s a win-win.”

Ohio hop farmers have a brand-new market to tap into. Bergefurd’s work is making Ohio-grown hops more accessible than ever.

“The market is wide open,” Bergefurd said. “There’s nowhere to go but up.”

Ohio-grown hops and hop pellets with Ohio-brewed beers.

Start your own

Information about starting a hop operation can be found online at https://southcenters.osu.edu/horticulture/other-specialties/hops or through county extension agents.


Jessy Woodworth Celeste Welty

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