Hop Growers of Michigan Unite
Michigan’s hop farmers have united under a new nonprofit network that plans to improve and promote Michigan-grown hops.
The Hop Growers of Michigan is following the lead of brewing industry guilds, like the Michigan Brewers Guild, and the craft beer industry’s attitude of camaraderie over competition, says Jeff Steinman, board chair of the Hop Growers of Michigan and owner of Hop Head Farms LLC in Hickory Corners, MI.
“That’s where I would like to see the hop growers go with this group—is to become more of a community and less of competitors, and to promote our industry,” Steinman said.
The network hopes to institute quality standards for Michigan-grown hops, support university research and development of hop horticulture and processing, and promote the budding Michigan hop market. According to data from the Michigan State University Extension, more than 200 acres of commercial hops were grown in Michigan in 2013 and more than 100 more acres planned for 2014. There are also 10 harvesting, or picking, centers and eight processing operations in state.
The majority of the 30,000 acres of hop farms in the U.S. are concentrated in the Pacific Northwest—Washington, Oregon and Idaho—where farmers have been growing hops for decades. A relatively new hop growing market like Michigan faces challenges: high investment costs, overall newness to growing and cultivating, and ability to meet brewers’ high quality and consistency standards.
Steinman says he believes brewers would be willing to pay more for hops grown in Michigan, especially if grown responsibly and sustainably. For Michigan’s 140-plus breweries, a growing hop market also means they could save on transportation costs and create closer connections with hop farmers.
“Brewers don’t have to go as far to create a relationship with a hop grower,” Steinman says. “They don’t have to get on a plane and go to Germany or go to the Pacific Northwest; they can drive 20 to 100 miles and hit a hop farm and go and look and pull the cones off and smell them. That interactiveness really goes a long way.”
The network was formed in partnership with regional nonprofit economic development organization The Right Place and with initial support from a Michigan Economic Development Corp. grant. The first general meeting is planned for July or August, Steinman says, before the harvest.