LONDON, Ohio - Ohio beer manufacturers send an estimated $4 million out of Ohio annually by purchasing the flowers of the hop plant, called hop cones, or "hops," from growers outside the state.
To help keep some of that economic activity within the state, Ohio State University is developing a hop research program focused on production and marketing, said Brad Bergefurd, OSU Extension agriculture educator at the OSU South Centers in Piketon and at the Scioto County office of OSU Extension.
"This project allows us to develop sustainable production practices directly related to Ohio growing conditions," he said. "Data collected from these applied research trials will allow us to educate growers about production, pest management practices and phenology data."
From preliminary research, Bergefurd said hops can be grown on the sandy soils of the Lake Erie shore to the heavy clay soils of southern Ohio, so they should be adaptable to most Ohio soil types. Research plantings will be done at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster and at the OSU South Centers at Piketon on two different soil types.
Bergefurd and Mary Gardiner, OARDC assistant professor in the Department of Entomology, will discuss the topic during a session titled "Hops: A new crop alternative for Ohio," to be held on Tuesday, Sept. 18, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Farm Science Review near London.
The first-of-its-kind hop production research project will begin this fall, Bergefurd said.
The OSU South Centers and Ohio State's Department of Entomology will conduct applied field research and a marketing survey to determine the dollars and jobs that are currently being sent out of Ohio by Ohio's expanding brewing industry. The research will evaluate new hop cultivars, innovative hop production techniques, insect and disease control methods, harvesting, processing, and marketing techniques that can be adopted by Ohio farmers, he said.
"This will allow Ohio's beer manufacturers to spend their money in Ohio by purchasing Ohio-grown hops and ultimately help create Ohio jobs," Bergefurd said. "This crop may allow Ohio growers to diversify into a high-value specialty crop."
Ohio State researchers estimate that within the first year growers can expect a hops yield of 200 to 1,800 pounds per acre, depending on the cultivar, with an estimated value of $2,000 to $25,200. In the second and subsequent production years, yield increases to 500 to 2,200 pounds per acre valued at $7,000 to $30,800.
During their session, Bergefurd and Gardiner plan to provide an overview of the hops research, a history of hop production in the Midwest, and information on the potential opportunities this crop may have for Ohio growers.
There is an ever-increasing Ohio market for hops with the expanding brewing industry. The Ohio Department of Liquor Control handed out more alcohol-manufacturing permits in the first six months of 2011 than it did in all of 2010, a trend continuing in 2012.
"Hops are a main ingredient in beer manufacturing, providing a bitterness that balances the sweetness of the malt sugars, and a refreshing finish," Bergefurd said.
Hops are sold on the open market, with the northwest United States supplying the majority of U.S. hops. Currently in Ohio, hops are grown in gardens and by homeowners on a small scale, and there are some growers already trying to grow them on their farms, he said.
"The reason hops production moved to the western United States about 100 years ago was because of disease and insect pests that reduced production in Ohio," Bergefurd said. "We believe we have advanced in our production technology so that we now can profitably grow hops in Ohio commercially.
"From our discussions with Ohio's microbrewing industry, which is partnering with us on this project, brewers have shown interest in directly purchasing Ohio-grown hops and may be willing to pay a premium."
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