The growth of the beer industry is fueling a need for hops, but the agricultural industry has been slow to respond. The reasons? Large start-up costs and ignorance about hops’ unique needs:
It costs about $10,000 to buy rootstock and set up the trellis system required to grow hops vines. Farmers erect 16- to 20-foot poles connected by cables, from which they run strings to the ground for the plants to climb. The cone-like flowers that grow atop the vines give beer its unique, bitter taste.
Equipment to pick, bale and dry hops costs tens of thousands of dollars more, putting the initial investment for a 10-acre farm at close to $250,000, said Ron Godin, a hops specialist with Colorado State University Extension. . . .
Hops haven’t been grown commercially outside the Pacific Northwest for more than 100 years, and knowledge of the plant died out in that time. Methods used to combat fungus, ward off pests and irrigate in arid parts of Washington state, with its 27,000 acres of hops, don’t necessarily work in more humid climates, said Ryan Trzebiatowski, a 33-year-old engineer who has a small hops farm in Amherst.