Since the craft beer industry has taken off, West Virginia State University decided to study whether local farmers can benefit from the burgeoning beer industry by growing hops for the brewers to use.
West Virginia State extension agent Brad Cochran says the state agriculture department awarded a $23,000 grant for the project, which seem to be popular. He received 70 applications from folks wanting to participate.
Three larger growers were chosen, in Jefferson, Fayette and Marion Counties. They received 60 hops roots, known as rhizomes, and the materials needed to construct a structure on which to grow the hops, which are like bean plants, they climb.
Currently there is no large scale hops production in West Virginia. Some people grow the plant for home brewing purposes, but commercial brewers order from what what Cochran calls the "hops mecca of the U.S.," the Pacific Northwest. He says beer makers also order some specialty hops from Germany and other European countries.
Cochran said one goal of the study is to boost the state's production and encourage farmers to consider growing the plant commercially.
Meet Two Hops Farmers
Matthew Grove and Robbie Babbitt of Berkeley County are among the 35 smaller growers throughout West Virginia who received 60 free plants as part of the study. They have to construct their own structure.
All the participants were given the same three varieties, Cascade, Centennial and Columbus.
Grove and Babbitt have planted 60 rhizomes on a plot of ground in front of Babbitt’s house at Broomgrass, a farming subdivision in western Berkeley County.
“Maybe some varieties work in some parts of the state and some don’t,” Babbitt said. “Maybe none of them work in West Virginia; we’re just going to try to find out.”
Each of the three varieties is planted in its own circle. Grove and Babbitt will erect an 18 foot pole in the middle of the circle which will support twine that the hops can climb.
“It’ll be set up so the lines that run to the top can be hoisted and lowered for harvesting, similar to a flag pole, a way to run the line up and down so we don’t have to get on ladders,” Grove said.
“Big tall ladders,” Babbitt added, laughing, “20 foot straight up.”
All the participants will provide Cochran with data over the next three years on how their plants are doing. Cochran said the ultimate goal of this little experiment is to encourage farmers across the state to consider growing hops that can be used in some of the local, craft beers.
“We can have 100 percent produced West Virginia beer and that’s exciting just to keep everything here at home,” he said.
Later this year forums and panel discussions will take place so farmers and brewers can get together to learn more about developing a hops production industry that can support local breweries.