New NC Hops Project Website: Check it out!

Van Burnette's hop yard in Buncombe Co. in late May
Many people have expressed interest in the hops production that is going on across the state (actually going on throughout the U.S.!). There are a large number of growers trying to grow hops on a commercial scale and many more who have been producing hops on a small scale for their hop guild or club or their own home brewing needs. This year, Rob Austin in Soil Science at NC State University was awarded a GoldenLeaf Foundation grant to start studying the agronomic issues associated with growing hops in the Southeast. He is a soil scientist, so his primary focus is on the soil, but he was also collecting information on diseases, insects, and the brewing quality of the hops produced. He and Scott King, also in Soil Science, established an experimental hop yard in Raleigh. I cooperated on the project here in WNC by working with four local growers in Madison, Buncombe, and Haywood counties. We had many other supporting plant and soil experts from the state involved including NCDA agronomists and NCSU extension agents, plant pathologists, and entomologists. Rob designed a new website for this project. I am very impressed with it and thought you might want to check it out: NC Hops Project. It is rich with pictures of how they established the experimental hop yard in Raleigh and the commercial hop yards we cooperate with here in WNC. All the cooperators are listed there, too. There is also a lot of information on the hops industry, although it is about the "big hops industry". We live in an area with a growing craft brewery industry; there are over 40 in NC and more than 30 in VA. That is another potential market for growers.

But we have a lot more to learn about growing hops successfully and what it takes to make it profitable. To that end, Scott King and I were recently awarded a grant from the USDA Specialty Crops Block Grant program, administered through the NC Dept. of Agriculture & Consumer Services, to establish an experimental hop yard on one of the research stations in western NC and to continue working with our four cooperating hop farmers in the region. Soon we will be meeting with all our cooperators to "debrief" about the 2010 season and plan for the coming year.

Rob will keep the project website updated. In addition Sue Colucci has a blog page devoted to NC hops WNC Veggies Hops Page that is chock full of information and links to resources. I also post on the hops happenings fairly regularly on this blog.

If you are considering growing hops commercially, I urge you to read all the information on the above noted blogs and websites and to visit with folks growing them now. Establishing a commercial hop yard is not easy and can be quite costly. There is a lot we don't know about growing and processing hops in the Southeast, so you will be one of the pioneers if you choose to plant them. The craft breweries have been very supportive of the local growers' efforts and appear willing to buy what is grown in the area, but there has not been enough production yet for any of us to know what quality or quantity can be produced and at what price. So I urge caution. If on the other hand, you want to grow hops for your own home brewing pleasure, there are many people doing that throughout the region quite successfully. Just Google "growing hops at home" and you'll find dozens of great articles and blogs with good pictures to assist you.

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