OK. Where do I start? I’ve had a few days to get the heart rate down from some (literal) muddy ruts on the road to building an end to end hop processing center in Southwest Michigan- tractor stuck, semi delivering planting paper stuck, contractors’ trucks stuck, ice to mud back to ice…
So, there’s a LOT of buzz about growing hops in Michigan and more and more people are trying their hand at growing hops. I am reminded of a wise Jedi who said, “No! Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try”. If you are one of those or know someone that is, my first bit of advise is know the expenses first, upfront, spend a good long time thinking of every possible input that would go into creating your hop yard. Do your homework- we did- 4 years(trials) and 7 months of it (business plan). Then, get a realistic expectation of what a “quality”, “local” hop per pound price is. IT IS NOT $20 to $30, people! Then, figure out and speak with the few people that have equipment to “process” your hops and get solid numbers from them as well. If they can’t give you a number, chances are they either don’t want to bother with folks outside of their group or don’t know their true costs, do not have a sound business model, and will not be around for the long haul anyway. Then do the math with all those inputs. If it still makes sense, welcome to the neighborhood. If not, “do not”. In the past, there was little information sharing between the processors, but that is changing. There was just recently a meeting in the Grand Traverse area of all the hop processors in Michigan. (I’m saving that interesting discussion for a separate blog post).
With all current Michigan processors also being hop growers we’ve all had to figure out two sets of start up costs, operating expenses, and income necessary to cover both of those items and generate a profit. Yeah, profit. It is not a dirty word. It is dirty and very hard work, which if we didn’t have a passion for hops as a specialty crop and the end users, our fantastic Midwestern craft beer brewing community, we would not choose to farm this remarkable little cone at all.
So, back to this fantasy versus reality scenario. What many people who are thinking of growing hops at this stage in the game do not realize is that, take for instance in our state, the Michigan Brewers Guild members, have been getting bombarded for four years or more with inquiries as to whether they’d like to buy Michigan hops or not. Of course they do, but they don’t want to hear it from every Tom, Dick, and Harry out there anymore. More centralized distribution, the highest quality possible , surety of supply, and reasonable pricing are what any brewing organization with it’s sites on growth want. Which leads me into the next reality check for those getting into this endeavor- realize that although you have an individual business, along with the 40-60 other 1/4 acre to 1 acre farms out there, you have no way of guaranteeing an assurance of supply to any one brewery with that amount of hops. Also, consider that on one acre if you have 3 or 4 varieties, you make it extremely difficult for a processor to justify turning on their machine and cleaning it out 3 times for one acre. That gets expensive. Though you may think it boring to grow one type of hop on an acre, just wait, once you start making money from being able to sell your entire yield in one shot, you might think to add a second acre of that other kind you wanted to grow. You need to team up with a quality, qualified and forward thinking processor to help increase supply and feed the systems out there that can provide quality and volume at a reasonable price. Be a part of a team effort between you the grower and the processor that will be able to supply your favorite breweries and be proud to say that you supply great hops to XYZ processor and that XYZ’s hops make their way into your favorite beers.
Mr. Green Genes