Prominent commodities such as corn, wheat and beef cattle are staples in North Dakota’s booming agriculture industry, but other important crops have a growing impact on the local economy. From hemp seeds and oil to locally made beer and wines, products made from North Dakota’s unique and specialty crops are getting national attention.
Hops and Barley
At Souris River Brewing in Minot, locally grown hops are showcased in their plethora of beers brewed on site. These perennial vines are grown vertically, and their cones are harvested to infuse the beer with their unique flavor.
“We believe in sourcing local, buying local and delivering a good product,” says the brewery’s founder, Aaron Thompson.
The brewery, which opened in 2012, has contracts with five local hops growers, sources the beef on its food menu from local ranchers, and relies on local farmers to provide barley for some of the more than 50 styles of beer on tap.
“Barley is a big crop for this state, but with the increase of more craft breweries, we’re seeing that barley malted and used for a new purpose,” Thompson says.
North Dakota has consistently been ranked as a top-three producer of barley since the 1930s. Souris River Brewing and others source its local barley from Two Track Malting in Bismarck. The company malts barley from local growers – a process that germinates and then dries barley to be used for brewing or distilling – and provides it to local breweries. Souris River makes a local IPA once a year from only North Dakota-sourced ingredients. “Sourcing ingredients from our local and regional suppliers strengthens our community’s economic base and fosters goodwill between our people.”
Industrial hemp was a predominant crop in most of the United States in the early part of the 20th century. After years of dormancy, the plant has seen a recent increase in demand. North Dakota legalized industrial hemp production in 1999 and was one of seven states to start planting industrial hemp research crops in 2015. Currently, 2,800 acres of industrial hemp are in active production in North Dakota, and the Department of Agriculture has an ongoing pilot program.
This hearty plant grows quickly and stands up well against weeds, and the list of products made from it is constantly growing. Hempseed and hemp oil are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids and can be used as a meat replacement. Hemp oil is also used in a wide variety of body products, and the fiber can be used for textiles. Because industrial hemp fibers are resistant to mold and ultraviolet light, they are good for home furnishing applications and carpeting.
With long, cold winters and a short growing season, North Dakota may not seem like an obvious grape-producing state. However grape varieties native to the state have grown along its rivers for hundreds of years, and research has gone into breeding those varieties to withstand the cold and produce delicious wine.
Many native North Dakota grapes have been bred with Concord grape varieties through programs at North Dakota State University and the University of Minnesota. These new varieties can stand the negative-40-degree winters and are harvested for wine production as well as for jams, jellies and juices.
“It is certainly a new and emerging industry,” says Randy Albrecht, president of the North Dakota Grape and Wine Association and proprietor of Wolf Creek Winery near Coleharbor, which opened its doors in 2014. “We had our first registered grower in North Dakota in 1997 and issued our first winery license in 2002.”
Today, the state has issued 14 licenses for federally bonded wineries and cideries. Locally made wine is sold in 18 retail stores across North Dakota and distributed to 34 states through online sales.
“I really believe this industry is in its infancy and we will begin to see a significant improvement and variety in the products we produce in the coming years,” Albrecht says. “Five new wineries have emerged in the last five years and the quality of our product has already come a long way. This industry really has the potential to grow.”