The craft beer business is booming in the U.S., claiming more than 8 percent of the country’s beer market in just a few years. For Michigan, a state with ideal conditions for growing a key ingredient in beer making, this means more demand for hops and an increased interest in production of the crop.
An Ideal Growing Environment
Michigan is ideal for growing hops because of its latitude.
“The vast majority of hops around the world are grown between 40 and 55 degrees latitude,” says Dr. Robert Sirrine, community food systems educator for Michigan State University (MSU) Extension. “Northwest Michigan sits right on the 45th parallel.”
Hops need a certain amount of time to reach 18 feet, and after the solstice, the crop begins to grow into a cone formation.
“We have the perfect amount of day length throughout the season to make this happen,” Sirrine says. “Hops also have a chilling requirement, which Michigan never has an issue meeting.”
Hops grow best in well-drained soil with plenty of water, both of which are abundant in many areas across Michigan.
“One issue we will have to overcome is downy mildew, which thrives in humid environments,” Sirrine says.
Not to worry, MSU will be spearheading work on this mildew over the next few years.
Bringing Resources to Growers and Enthusiasts
“There has been a steady demand for information over the last several years,” Sirrine says. “We receive multiple requests every week.”
These queries come from a variety of sources, Sirrine says, from current farmers and interested growers, to breweries and backyard enthusiasts.
Sirrine estimates there are 160 microbreweries in Michigan, and more are on the way. Hops farms are increasing as well, with nearly 400 acres currently planted across Michigan.
In order to help the industry grow and thrive, MSU Extension provides videos, webinars and publications, along with events and workshops for farmers and other residents interested in growing hops in the Great Lakes region, Sirrine says. It also partners with the Michigan Brewers Guild to host educational events throughout the year.
Hopped up on Research
For the past four years, Sirrine has been in charge of an MSU Extension test farm containing 14 varieties of hops. Located at the Northwest Michigan Horticulture Research Center just northwest of Traverse City, this one-third acre test crop allows MSU Extension staff to study which varieties of hops grow best in the region.
“In 2015, we will have at least two cultivar trials at MSU Research Centers located in northwest and southwest Michigan,” he says. “We will continue to determine which cultivars do best under our climatic conditions, and continue to refine best management practices including weed control, irrigation, fertility, pest and disease management, and others.
“We want to provide as much information to interested growers as we possibly can, because this industry is only going to continue to grow, and demand is only going to continue to increase.”
Hops in High Demand
As the craft beer industry grows, so will the need for hops. More hops are needed to make craft beer than beers made by large corporate brewers.
“Most of the publications I’ve read recently that suggest we could be in for a hop shortage over the next few years are referring to the U.S. market as a whole. I haven’t heard of any Michigan brewers not being able to source hops.”
Sirrine recommends brewers and growers enter into formal contracts to ensure supply.
“It’s definitely safe to say this will be a successful and growing industry for Michigan in the future.”