Hops producers in Nebraska are feeling growing pains as the crop begins to take root.
Still, the 2016 growing season seems to be a success.
“We’re pretty happy,” says Steve Bauman, Bauman’s Hop Farm co-owner. “We got the downy mildew under control. We had no hail storms here in Washington County, to speak of, and we had timely rains, so we didn’t have to rely on irrigation.”
He says after eight years, he and his wife are still learning as they go.
“I think figured out a fertilizing schedule a little better,” Bauman tells Nebraska Radio Network. “It’s kind of a working process since it’s a new crop to the state.”
As one of the founders of the Nebraska Hops Grower Association, Bauman says there are nearly two dozen growers in the state, but admits there might be more hobby growers.
He says they usually grow two varieties each year and test out others.
Annette Wiles, Midwest Hop Producers co-owner, says their operation does the same, trying to figure out which works best for brewers.
“They’re very interested in what varieties grow well, because if they know that they can obtain those varieties, then they’ll work them into their recipes, as opposed to trying to tell us that they’d prefer that we’d grow something that we know isn’t going to grow well here,” Wiles tells Nebraska Radio Network.
Wiles says like all crops, weather has a big impact on hops, which they are taking into consideration as they look to expand.
“We’re trying to be a little bit selective about the number of acres and in what area what we put in so we don’t get into some catastrophic issue with the weather,” she says.
Midwest Hop Producers harvested plants on 15 acres this year and set up another 10 acres for later production.
This is the operation’s second year for harvesting hops, and overall, she says it was good.
“We have some varieties that have exceeded the numbers of what we thought they would,” Wiles says, “and then have some numbers that didn’t hit what our expectations were.”
The next step for producers is to dry the hops before selling.
“The crop seems to come due in August, and August, if you look at the charts, usually has the highest relative humidity of the year in this state where it will be anywhere from 70 to 90 percent,” Bauman says. “That becomes a real challenge.”
Brewers want the hops to have between six and 12 percent water content.
The Pacific Northwest continues to dominate hops production in the United States, but Nebraska’s crop is growing.
The state department of agriculture is funding projects to promote the crop and University of Nebraska researchers have projects underway on best practices to grow and handle hops.
AUDIO: Mike Loizzo reports [:45]