Growing Local Hops and Crops for the Craft Beer Boom

How can we make sure local products can support the growing craft beverage industry? That’s what 70 people who attended the University of Maryland’s Western Maryland Research Education Center and the Brewers Association of Maryland’s first ‘Hops and Crops Field Day for the Craft Brewing Industry’ on June 21, 2017 wanted to find out.

The University of Maryland is conducting research on hops, rye and barley to learn what works for Maryland’s booming craft brewing industry. 24 varieties of hops are being tested, 12 varieties are in their second year of production and the other half were planted this year. Maryland grain farms who wish to support this growing industry will be able to look at the research from the four varieties of barley planted at the Western Maryland Research Education Center’s farm in Keedysville: Fall planted-Scala 2 row, SY Tepee 2 row, and Thoroughbred 6 row, as well as spring planted AAC Synergy 2 row. VNS Rye was also planted in a four-acre block.

There is big business in learning how to grow hops. Locally-grown malting barley is valued at about $8.50 a bushel which is a premium compared to traditional barley. After being harvested the grain is dried, cleaned and bagged before being sent to one of Maryland’s three malt house, the malt houses will evaluate the quality and ship the finalized product to several Maryland Breweries, one being Frederick County’s Milkhouse Brewery, who will make the next beer in the Test Yard series featuring products grown by the University of Maryland.

As the Farm to Bottle movement continues to grow, the demand for local ingredients is rapidly increasing but not without growing challenges. Pleasant Valley Hops Farm is Frederick County’s only commercial hop farm and currently has 15 acres of hops between Frederick and Washington County. Hops require a large start-up investment for the poles and wires to hang the hops. But much like vineyard, once planted the hops can last for up to 20 years. Hops are a water loving plant that require daily irrigation as well as nitrogen throughout the growing season. Growing the hops may be easier than growing roses but processing can be a challenge. Fresh hops must be used within 8-12 hours of harvest to avoid spoilage, the other option is to dry the hops, store in a cold room before being pelletized. Local brewers also use local for fruits to make small specialized batches such as berries, apples, peaches and plums which helps forge strong partnerships among local orchards and farm.

Maryland’s brewing industry spans 71 licensed brewers with another 30 in planning. These brewers are estimated to have a $925 million dollar economic impact to the state. We are certain that big things are brewing for Frederick County!