Dayton Upfront

 Dayton Upfront

Growing hops is not for the faint of heart.

Eric Spangler

Baby hops.

That’s what farmers are telling people who want to start growing hops to help meet the demand of the booming craft brewing industry Ohio.

It’s a huge demand. Ohio State University Extension horticulturalist Brad Bergefurd, the principle investigator of a program to evaluate the production and marketing of hops in Ohio, says about 6,000 acres of hops are needed by Ohio craft brewers. Ohio now has about 200 acres of hops planted, up from 10 acres in 2011.

Although the demand for local hops is huge, people who want to grow the crop should think small at first. That’s because it takes a sizable initial investment to get started and because the amount of physical labor is intensive.

“Most people think of farming in Ohio, like corn and soybeans, where you’ll see the guy out in the field like four times; once to plow, once to plant, once to spray and once to harvest,” says Tom Hoenie, owner of Mankato Farm in New Carlisle.

But hops farming is a lot more work. “I’m out in that field every day literally for hours a day because it’s a garden, it’s not a farm,” says Hoenie, who now has three acres of hops.

That’s why people who want to start growing hops should start off small.

“If you jump out there and you put out a half acre, or three quarters, or an acre and if you don’t know what you’re doing it will …” Hugh “Spanky” Brown, owner of Spanky’s Hops and Herbs in Jamestown, searches for the right words, “traumatize you.”

Amy Forsthoefel, co-owner of Little Miami Farms in Spring Valley, agrees. “It’s more work than most people realize.” Forsthoefel says, “It’s a full-time job to be out there in the field. And we’re only doing a half an acre.”

Growing hops means being in the hops yard on a daily basis, checking for diseases, looking for pests, spraying for diseases and pests, weeding, fertilizing, pruning and training the bines (yes, their called bines, not vines because of they way they grow).

And that doesn’t include harvesting the hops.

“Picking hops, if you’re doing it by hand, is almost torture,” says Hoenie. 

If someone gets past the part about hops farming being labor intensive then the start-up costs might make them think twice. “The infrastructure costs … are really prohibitive for somebody who wants to do this,” says Forsthoefel.

The infrastructure for growing crops includes building a trellis system consisting of poles, cables and twine to support the fast-growing plants. “It’s really expensive to build the trellis,” says Hoenie.

But if someone can get past both the amount of labor and the expense, hops farming, especially at harvest time, can be rewarding.

“We sit there with the barn doors open and listen to music and watch the sun set and pick the hops and drink some beer while we’re doing it,” says Forsthoefel. 

“And it’s pretty fun.”