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Hip hops: Growers needed to serve booming craft beer industry

Hops grown on a farm in Leelenau, Michigan.
Andrew McFarlane
Creative Commons
Hops grown on a farm in Leelenau, Michigan.

A new non-profit association is trying to strengthen the supply chain of Michigan-grown hops.

Hops are one of the main ingredients in beer. The plants grow vertically, up to 25 feet or more, so you don’t need a huge farm to grow one of the main ingredients in beer.

Rick Chapla is vice president of business development at The Right Place, an economic development group based in Grand Rapids. He sees real potential for urban farmers to try growing hops.

“That means that on a smaller piece of property with proper irrigation and good soil management you could make a lot of money,” Chapla said.

He says the craft beer industry is growing fast in Michigan, and it makes sense to foster homegrown hops.

“The same people who, like myself, have become such snobs about their beer, they dig deeper and they really do want this to be an endorsement of Michigan business,” Chapla said, “They want Michigan hops. The craft brewers we’ve talked to overhear people talking about this at their establishments.”

Chapla, along with Barry County Economic Alliance, and help from a Michigan Economic Development Corporation grant, formed the Michigan Hop Network. The group issued more background information in a release this week:

Although most of the 30,000 acres of hop farms across the nation are centered in the Pacific Northwest, specifically in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, Michigan hops are quickly becoming a strategic advantage for many craft brewers throughout the Midwest. According to information from the Michigan State University Extension, there were over 200 acres of commercial hops grown in Michigan in 2013, with over 100 more acres planned for 2014. To support the growing acreage in Michigan, 10 harvesting centers (called picking centers) and eight processing operations are now established throughout the state.

Through his research, Chapla says he discovered Michigan once had some 2,000 acres of hops in production after World War II. But those numbers shrank as the beer industry became more centralized.

The new association network will help members learn best growing practices and enlist universities to help with research and development. Eventually it’ll help market affordable, high quality, made-in-Michigan hops.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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